GLASS by William S. Ellis

GLASS

From the First Mirror to Fiber Optics, the Story of the Substance that Changed the World
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KIRKUS REVIEW

Glass, like the articles Ellis has written for National Geographic, contains his reflections on a wonderful journey. The book evolved from his most famous article about the ubiquitous but disregarded substance that has advanced our civilization with everything from high-rise buildings to fiber optics. Ellis’s research took him around the world to discover the technological, aesthetic, and historical dimensions of his subject. In Mesopotamia (modem-day Iraq and Syria), glass was accidentally discovered by sailors cooking on the beaches some 2,250 years ago. In this ancient setting now stand the modem computerized crystal factories of Waterford. Arabs, Mongols, and Crusaders were dazzled by the beauty and utility of glassware. Possessing glass objects reflected wealth and status. The movement in glass making, however, was toward Europe, where Persian and Egyptian master craftsmen came to exhibit their skills. During the Middle Ages the world center of glass-making shifted to the island of Murano, where Venetian craftsmen formed a union whose penalty for desertion was death. Contemporary artists’ glass creations command exorbitant prices. From elegant, pristine Steuben crystal to magnificent Tiffany lamps, artwork in glass rivals more highbrow art media. But the most impressive progress is in science and technology. It is impossible to imagine cars without windshields or houses without light bulbs (1.8 billion manufactured annually in the US alone). Once a fragile substance, glass can be made heat-resistant, shatterproof, even bulletproof, without sacrificing visibility. Airplane windshields withstand tremendous air pressure. Glass is used to trap radioactive waste. Radioactive glasses cure cancer. We see ourselves with mirrors and view our world more effectively with eyeglasses, telescopes, microscopes, and now fiber optics. One mile of glass fiber optics weighs only four ounces, with 25,000 times the capacity to carry information as a mile of copper wire weighing 30tons. Ellis breathes life into his technical subject. With an eloquent storyteller’s charm, he chronicles the love affair between our civilization and increasingly versatile glass.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-380-97464-9
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Avon/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1998




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