I actually quite enjoyed the book and found it quite an easy read. Ridley is clearly a very convincing writer. The first half was mostly a discussion of the history of various innovations. It covered energy, public health, transport, food, etc. I don’t know if the descriptions of how some innovations developed were correct, but I’ve no reason to think that they weren’t (one criticism is that it wasn’t particularly well referenced).
I also generally agree with the argument that innovation is a complex process, that there are lots of failures along the way, and that it’s much more perspiration than inspiration. There’s not some simple linear process from an idea to some innovative, new technology. I also agree that there’s a difference between the detailed process aimed at understanding how something works, and the more trial and error process associated with developing some kind of useful technology.
The second half of the book is more about how to be promote innovation. As this review suggests, this is where Ridley’s free-market bias becomes more evident. Although I’m sure there is some truth to regulations stifling innovation, too little regulation would seem to also carry risk. Although public-funding isn’t necessarily a good way to drive innovation, there would certainly seem to be examples where it has worked well.
There were also some parts I found a little irritating. Glossing over examples where it seemed clear that regulations had helped. Being critical of big companies whose attempts to develop innovative business practices had failed spectacularly, while failing to mention his role as Chairman of Northern Rock. Being critical of practices that were aimed at maintaining the status quo while still having coal mines on his land.
I’m not sure I’d necessarily recommend it, but it was an interesting book to read. It was fascinating to read about how some innovations developed. It also made some interesting observations, even if Ridley’s bias wasn’t always all that well hidden.