INSISTING ON THE IMPOSSIBLE by Victor K. McElheny

INSISTING ON THE IMPOSSIBLE

The Life of Edwin Land, Inventor of Instant Photography

KIRKUS REVIEW

The life of Edwin Land could easily spring from one of Horatio Alger’s stories. Son of a scrap-metal dealer, Land dropped out of Harvard to pursue the inventing bug and his dream of creating a cheap plastic sheet polarizer. He wanted to decrease auto accidents caused by headlight glare, but it was with sunglasses and photography that the polarizer and the newly founded Polaroid corporation found success. An inveterate innovator and conceptualizer, Land would eventually receive more patents than any other American, excepting Edison. His genius was both for the sudden inspiration and the organizational ability to get people behind him to fill in the details. For example, the idea for instant photography came to him in the space of an afternoon, but it would take many years and many talented individuals to work out all the details. He also developed a new theory of color vision, worked as a science advisor for President Eisenhower, and helped design NASA. He drove Polaroid relentlessly to create new refinements and inventions such as color film and the SX-70 camera. He was motivated by the belief that “the bottom line’s in heaven. The real business of business is building things.” His magic touch held right until the end when he developed instant color movie film just as video recorders were coming on the market. The costs to Polaroid were enormous and led to a gradual severing of ties between Land and his company. Former New York Times science reporter McElheny has done a formidable research job, but he can—t seem to decide whether this is a popular account or one for specialists. There are long descriptions of technology and processes that are almost unintelligible to the layperson. The organization throughout is also appalling, with frequent, inexplicable shifts back and forth in time. Finally, McElheny’s Land seems like a guest in his own biography, as ghostly and indistinct as the image on a negative. (b&w photos)

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-7382-0009-3
Page count: 560pp
Publisher: Perseus
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1998




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