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Glass: A World History Hardcover – October 1, 2002

ISBN-13: 978-0226500287 ISBN-10: 0226500284 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press; 1 edition (October 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226500284
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226500287
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #130,965 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

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
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

I was born in Shillong, Assam, India in December 1941, son of a tea-planter. I was educated at the Dragon School, Oxford, Sedbergh School Yorkshire. I went to Oxford University where I read history (M.A., D.Phil), and then anthropology at London University (M.Phil., Ph.D.). I became a Senior Research Fellow at King's College, Cambridge in 1971 and a Lecturer, then Reader, then Professor of Anthropology at Cambridge. I became a Fellow of the British Academy in 1986 and am now Emeritus Professor of Anthropological Science and Life Fellow of King's College.
I have published about twenty books, put up over 800 films on Youtube, have a large website at
I travel a good deal to Nepal, Japan, China and elsewhere and am interested in filming, computer databases and other things.
My hobbies are walking and gardening.
I work on all my many projects with my wife Sarah.
If you want to see a slice of my life, look for my very recently published volumes of autobiography, 'Dorset Days' and 'Dragon Days'.

Customer Reviews

3.4 out of 5 stars
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GLASS: A WORLD HISTORY, Macfarlane and Martin, University of Chicago Press, 2002 What a magnificent book!
I would recommend it to anyone interested in the question of why we live in a world dominated by Western ideas.
If I wanted to discuss the origins of science, I would have read a book titled that, not a book called "Glass".
B. Isner

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 14, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When I bought the book, I was more or less expecting a history of how glass was made and the development of glass through history. I was mistaken.
It is a narrative of how glass influenced history. Without glass the Renaissance and the Age of Science could not have happened.
A fascinating and informative history of the world as influenced by glass.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Donald B. Siano on January 22, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Glass is a wonderful material for making vessels to drink out of, but its real importance is the role that it played in the early industrial revolution. Clear glass made such instruments as the microscope, the telescope, the barometer, and the various forms of chemical laboratory vessels possible and until the invention of transparent synthetic polymers, was just about the only material that could serve.
Macfarlane and Martin ably examine the importance of the material in making possible the historical advances that were shaped by the availability of transparent glass, and convincingly show that it was well nigh essential, and we would still all be sitting around a campfire in a cave if someone had not had the good luck to discover it.
One of his more interesting theories is that the discovery really took hold because of the demand pull for it in house windows in cooler climes, and that this is why the industrial revolution had its origin in Northern Europe, rather than the Arab world with its predilection for cooling breezes. More glass for windows means less expensive laboratory glassware and other scientific instruments. Perhaps there is something to this, but I suspect there were some other factors at work as well.
This little book is an entertaining read for those interested in thinking about the broad forces that shaped our modern world and its technology. They do, though, go a little overboard at times, and the section on myopia in the orient is positively over the top.
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22 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Karl Stull on October 12, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book has no detail to offer about early glassmaking, how it affected everyday lives of rich and poor, its effects on trade and culture . . . It doesn't even say what glass is.
The authors are interested in linking glass to a few well established themes of Western Civilization courses, such as the rise of the individual and the scientific revolution. Example: Is it coincidence that the great scientific minds of the medieval period were all men of the church, which for the last few centuries had been using a lot of stained glass? (The authors acknowledge that the church monopoly on higher education may help to explain this astonishing coincidence.) The discussion seems never to get beyond a few supporting quotations, and a cavalcade of disclaimers.
For a good history of glass, we may have to wait for Henry Petroski (Evolution of Useful Things) to write one.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By harlan on October 15, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
GLASS: A WORLD HISTORY, Macfarlane and Martin, University of Chicago Press, 2002

What a magnificent book! What an amazing thesis! Here, artfully and clearly presented by the authors, is the idea that this taken for granted miracle substance, all around us in the current day - in the form of drinking glasses, jars and bowls, eyeglasses, mirrors, TV screens, computer monitors, camera and telescope and microscope lenses, windows, petri dishes and test tubes - is the chief driver of modernity.

Yes, from its tribal discovery and development in Mesopotamia some 4,500 years ago, this translucent, moldable, durable, and highly refractive substance has transformed our world. Its reach and versatility has penetrated and enhanced all areas of our life - just think about the light bulb, and how humans now can read and write and play and do oh so many things without serious regard to dark fall.

Nor does it stop with lighting. Just think about transportation (car, train, plane windows) or shelter (windows for houses and buildings). Think about optics. Think about how optics, in itself, has led to biological science and medicine (where would Louis Pasteur, and all those who came after him, be without the microscope?). Think about how optics allows people (like me!) with aging eyes to read, and for others, all manner of other optical correction (I know, I know, you'll say, today these lenses are plastic, but were it not for glass, the field of optics - involving an understanding of curvature, refraction, lens making, etc. - plastic lenses would have been much much later in the making.)

Indeed, the computer upon which I type this review would not have been possible without glass.
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