Imagine a world without glass: no light bulbs, no windshields, no telescopes, no computer screens, and, of course, no glasses. "It is true that other substances, such as wood, bamboo, stone, and clay, can provide shelter and storage," write Alan MacFarlane and Gerry Martin in Glass: A World History
. "What is special about glass is that it combines these and many other practical uses with the ability to extend the most potent of our senses, sight, and the most formidable of human organs, the brain." As a piece of technology, however, glass has received almost no previous attention. Nobody knows who invented it, though the ancient Egyptians or Mesopotamians are the likeliest candidates. It wasn't until Europe's early Renaissance, however, that glass was used for something more than mere jewelry and ceramics. It played a vital role in the growth of Western science, marking a key difference between European civilization and civilization everywhere else. "The invention of spectacles [in the 13th century] increased the intellectual life of professional workers by fifteen years or more," say the authors--a development of enormous economic and cultural importance that contributed to "the foundations for European domination over the whole world during the next centuries." This is a bold and beguiling thesis, and it's a wonder that it took until now for somebody to think of it and articulate it so well. --John J. Miller
From Library Journal
MacFarlane (anthropological science, Univ. of Cambridge) and Martin, a historian of glass instruments, make the case for the centrality of glass in the artistic renaissance and scientific revolution that took place in Western Europe from the 14th to 17th centuries. They discuss the origins of glass making and trace its development and usage across centuries and multiple cultures (Europe, the Middle East, China, India, and Japan). Their discussion combines cultural, artistic, and aesthetic viewpoints of glass within these cultures with history and developments in science. The result is a thoroughly readable, carefully argued work, filled with delightful surprises (such as the discussion on eyeglasses, vision, and art). An excellent example of microhistory (think Mark Kurlansky's Cod), this is required for history of science collections and recommended for large public and academic collections. [See also William Ellis's Glass: From the First Mirror to Fiber Optics; The Story of the Substance That Changed the World.-Ed.]-Michael D. Cramer, Schwarz BioSciences Inc., RTP, N.--Michael D. Cramer, Schwarz BioSciences Inc., RTP, NC
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