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Glass: A World History


Glass: A World History Cover


Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

Picture, if you can, a world without glass. There would be no microscopes or telescopes, no sciences of microbiology or astronomy. People with poor vision would grope in the shadows, and planes, cars, and even electricity probably wouldn't exist. Artists would draw without the benefit of three-dimensional perspective, and ships would still be steered by what stars navigators could see through the naked eye.

In Glass: A World History, Alan Macfarlane and Gerry Martin tell the fascinating story of how glass has revolutionized the way we see ourselves and the world around us. Starting ten thousand years ago with its invention in the Near East, Macfarlane and Martin trace the history of glass and its uses from the ancient civilizations of India, China, and Rome through western Europe during the Renaissance, Enlightenment, and Industrial Revolution, and finally up to the present day. The authors argue that glass played a key role not just in transforming humanity's relationship with the natural world, but also in the divergent courses of Eastern and Western civilizations. While all the societies that used glass first focused on its beauty in jewelry and other ornaments, and some later made it into bottles and other containers, only western Europeans further developed the use of glass for precise optics, mirrors, and windows. These technological innovations in glass, in turn, provided the foundations for European domination of the world in the several centuries following the Scientific Revolution.

Clear, compelling, and quite provocative, Glass is an amazing biography of an equally amazing subject, a subject that has been central to every aspect of human history, from art and science to technology and medicine.


"Glass is a provocative work which, like many other popular books in the past decade, attempts to establish the necessary (if not sufficient) conditions which produced the most technologically sophisticated cultures in world history. Where the book Guns, Germs, and Steel grounds the technological superiority of Renaissance Europe upon the peculiarities of geography and other advantages in its distant agricultural past, MacFarlane and Martin argue that the technological superiority of the West hinges upon a less magnificent advantage: facility in the technology of glass-making. Glass provides a cogent argument, moving with relative ease between continents, cultures, and historical periods, yet for those readers who seek a detailed and scholarly exploration, they are bound to be a little disappointed, as the intended audience is a general one. Still, the thesis is curious and original, and the work provocative in its implications for the study of technological history." Reviewed by Andrew Witmer, Virginia Quarterly Review (Copyright 2006 Virginia Quarterly Review)

About the Author

Alan Macfarlane is a Professor of Anthropological Science at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of King's College and the British Academy. His fourteen books include Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England, The Origins of English Individualism, and The Riddle of the Modern World.

Table of Contents


List of Illustrations

1: Invisible Glass

2: Glass in the West—from Mesopotamia to Venice

3: Glass and the Origin of Early Science

4: Glass and the Renaissance

5: Glass and Later Science

6: Glass in the East

7: The Clash of Civilizations

8: Spectacles and Predicaments

9: Visions of the World

Appendix 1: Types of Glass

Appendix 2: The Role of Glass in Twenty Experiments that Changed the World

Further Reading

Sources for Quoted Passages



Product Details

University of Chicago Press
MacFarlane, Alan
Manufactured by:
University of Chicago Press
University of Chicago Press
Martin, Gerry
University of Chicago Press
Engineering - Chemical & Biochemical
Chemical & Biochemical
Glass -- History.
Chemistry-Chemical Engineering
Edition Description:
Series Volume:
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
10 halftones
8.00 x 5.50 in

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Related Subjects

Engineering » Engineering » History
Hobbies, Crafts, and Leisure » Crafts » Glass » Collecting
Science and Mathematics » Chemistry » Chemical Engineering

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Product details 288 pages University of Chicago Press - English 9780226500287 Reviews:
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