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Brilliant: The Evolution Of Artificial Light

by Jane Brox
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Product Details

  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publishing date: 08/07/2010
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 9780547055275
  • ISBN: 0547055277

Synopsis

Amazon Best Books of the Month, July 2010: In Brilliant: The Evolution of Artificial Light, Jane Brox illuminates the fascinating and forgotten history of man-made light, tracing its development through centuries of sputtering, smoking candles, to the gradual refinement of gas and, finally, electric light. Brox captures the sense of wonder that permeated the Chicago World's Fair as electric light lit up the "White City," and shows how quickly we became reliant on electric light, recounting the trepidation and anxiety that accompanied the mandatory blackouts of World War II and the power outages that have plagued New York City's power grid since the 1960s. Brox also addresses the unexpected consequences of light pollution, detailing the struggles of astronomers who are no longer able to see stars, and migrating birds that confusedly circle lit buildings at night until they die from exhaustion. Brilliant is an eloquent account of how a luxury so quickly became a necessity, and permanently changed human history. --Lynette Mong


Amazon Exclusive: A Letter from Jane Brox, Author of Brilliant: The Evolution of Artificial Light

Dear Amazon Readers,

So much of life as we know it--our long evening hours, our flexible working days, our feelings of safety at night--depends upon cheap, abundant light made possible by the incandescent bulb. Now that new government energy efficiency standards will make filament light bulbs illegal by 2014--and for the first time our new means of illumination may not be as satisfactory as the old--it's the perfect moment to look at the extraordinary story of how we came to inhabit our world built of light.

Just five hundred years ago almost everyone lived at the mercy of the dark. In a time before street lighting, travel at night was always perilous, and forbidden to all but a few. Most people were confined to their homes after sunset--authorities in some towns even locked citizens inside their houses for the night. Within their close quarters, many had no hope of more than a few hours of light in evening--meager, troublesome light cast by one or two stinking tallow candles or oil lamps.

Since then, each century of painstaking progress in illumination has had its own drama. The 18th century's need for more and more light spurred a world-wide hunt for whale oil, which proved to be so exhaustive it put the very survival of some whale species in peril, while the 19th century race to build a viable electric light involved the work of many scientists throughout Europe and America. In truth, Edison's bulb was not the isolated triumph it often seems to us now. His achievement was only possible after centuries of evolving understanding of electricity, and decades of experiments by dozens of scientists racing to fashion a workable incandescent light.

Edison's light assured cheap, abundant illumination for many, but not all. The democratic distribution of light in the United States depended upon the decades-long struggle by rural Americans to have the same access to electricity as those in the cities and suburbs. And controversies continue: as the demands for energy efficiency compete with our desires to have the light we want, we find ourselves in the midst of a new race for the perfect energy efficient light of the future. And as the grave consequences of light pollution become more and more evident we are faced with the question: How much light is too much?

When you read Brilliant you'll not only gain insight into the history of artificial light, you'll find that the surprising, complex story of our illumination is also the story of our evolving modern selves.

-Jane Brox

(Photo © Luc Demers)





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  • A Bright New Look At Life
    From Amazon

    After reading //Brilliant//, you'll never take life for granted again. From the great blackout of 1965 to the many "brown-outs" of recent times, //Brilliant// illuminates the dark areas from the beginning of the Twentieth Century. The author, Jane Brox, has composed an enlightened look into the evolution of artificial light. The book is written in an easy reading style with lively language and interesting anecdotes that entertain as well as inform. One of the most inviting prologues I have ever read lures you into the book. Brox covers it all, from the first lanterns at sea, to gas light and the emergence of the incandescent electric lamp. She remarks that during wartime some parts of Europe returned to old light. London endured a self-induced blackout to evade enemy bombardment. Even New York prepared itself to avoid becoming a target. All this makes us aware of how artificial light can cast an ugly shadow, and forces us to consider its use with care. Reviewed by D. Wayne Dworsky

  • The Evolution of Artificial Light
    From Amazon

    - - The SELLING potential of this GOOD book would increase fantastically by merely adding PICTURES - of the extremely RARE 'lighting' items referred to and partially described! - I blame this FAILURE on the advisors and/or EDITORS! Someone GOOFED! - Do a RE-CALL & REMAKE! And make a MILLION! - And give the 'Great' Physicist Nikola Tesla his rightful place among all those - 'Invention Laboratory' helpers and tinkers! He "LIT UP THE WORLD"! - And, his :"FLUORESCENT" & "NEON" LIGHTS 'BLAZE' ceaselessly in Vegas, Reno, Atlantic City, and Times Square! - Without 'Tesla's "Alternating Current" (A/C) most people would still be using 'candles' and 'oil lamps' for 'LIGHT"! - - I would like to add that coverage of F.D.R.'s Great "TVA" ,& "REA" Programs is exceptional; and the magnitude and far reaching beneficial effects are no doubt still being realized. - But these two superb demonstrations of the breadth of the 'genius' of Franklin Delano Roosevelt have not been given the respect they truly deserve; for they brightened the lives and futures of all those hundreds of thousands who for the first time ever were provided the use of "Electric Light" and "Power" from Nikola Tesla's Alternating Current! - -

  • Illuminating But Not Brilliant
    From Amazon

    Close but not brilliant. Certainly, a good portion of the book is fascinating and illuminating. When Ms. Brox allows her voice to shine through, the book is swift paced and cogently written. But, too often, Ms. Brox included long quotations, and relied too heavily on others to tell her story. On too many occasions, I felt that I was reading a college paper with sentences such as "the author notes that" followed by a lengthy quotation. Ah, but for a good editor.... These lengthy quotes were distracting. But when Ms. Brox tells the story of the social history of light in her own words, the story shines bright and clear. I understand that including photographic plates would make the book more expensive. But, I often found myself having to consult internet sources to see the kinds of devices that are described in the book. Perhaps, some drawings or photographic plates would have allowed the reader to see clearly these early contraptions that illuminated the homes of our ancestors. (I often wondered whether Ms. Brox actually viewed some of the instruments of illumination for herself, or was she relying on secondary sources to describe the device for her.) Perhaps, too, the author could have written about the nature, physics of light. For example, though there is much discussion of the AC versus DC current, there is hardly a sentence describing the difference. I understand this was not a book about the physics of light. But, for the laymen, it would have helped to understand the rudimentary nature of that thing that illuminates our world. On the whole, this is an enjoyable read. The subject matter (tracing the use of artificial light from prehistoric times through the present) is quite fascinating. Putting aside some of the stylistic criticism, this is an excellent book. It is both enlightening and enjoyable.

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