Over the past five centuries, scientific imagination and technological ingenuity have created a deep understanding of the physical world. This has enabled an exploration of the outermost limits of the universe, the innermost recesses of the atom, and the mechanisms that reproduce and sustain life. From this understanding technologies have developed that impact on and fundamentally change every aspect of our lives – practical, social and intellectual. How did the scientific method develop and how did it spin off technology? What can we learn from the lives and work of the people who created them, exploited them and opposed them? Can this astonishing rate of progress be sustained? These are the questions that have inspired this collection of essays. In a wide-ranging set of closely interrelated brief biographies of scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, philosophers, artists and an economist they give a comprehensive overview of how the modern world emerged. Sir Alistair MacFarlane is a former Vice-President of the Royal Society, and a retired university Vice-Chancellor. He is a Fellow of both the Royal Societies of London and Edinburgh, a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, and an Honorary Fellow of Selwyn College, Cambridge.