An encyclopedic treatment of the looking glass, from the bathroom variety to its use in high-powered telescopes.
Business journalist Pendergrast has an eclectic mind and writes about deceptively narrow topics (Uncommon Grounds, 1999, etc.) that have, in fact, figured in world history for millennia. Here, he demonstrates how mirrors have been intimately connected to human consciousness. Archaeologists have uncovered artificial mirrors made of polished obsidian, a natural black glass created during volcanic eruptions, dating from around 6200 b.c.e., at a site in what is now Turkey. Mirrors themselves are nothing more than objects that, as Pendergrast says, “are meaningless until someone looks in them.” At that juncture, the literal and psychological reflections multiply. As with his history of coffee and how it transformed the world in so many ways, Pendergrast had little conception of how many directions a history of mirrors would take. He traveled to modern-day locales to view a 300-foot diameter radio telescope in rural West Virginia, lay on his back in upstate New York to see into the world's largest kaleidoscope, looked at himself in a true mirror (not flipped right-to-left), and entered a French nudist colony (few mirrors there, as Pendegrast had rightly surmised). These are largely descriptive ruminations, though at times the author becomes reflective himself about the deeper meaning of what humans see when they see themselves or their cosmological surroundings with the help of mirrors.
Impressive in its wide-ranging research, and sometimes ovewhelmingly detailed: best consumed a chapter at a time.