Surfaces: A History

Joseph A. Amato. Univ. of California, $34.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-520-27277-4
"[H]umans are a living set of natural surfaces...among a world of natural and made surfaces," historian Amato broadly summarizes in this broad mixture of philosophy, history, aesthetics, and narrative. His arc begins in the prehistory of human biology and evolution, moving in grand gestures through the entirety of Western civilization before landing in the modern day. En route, Amato finds occasion to reference nearly every major change or advancement in human society—from Marxism to the invention of synthesized polymers to cave paintings—usually offering a brief analysis linking the advancement to the pervasive and loose idea of surfaces. The extreme historical scope itself is more than a single book could handle, but when tied to such a ubiquitous and woolly concept as "surfaces", the resulting study struggles to become anything more than perfunctory. Adding to this, Amato favors a sweeping lyric voice and grand narrative arches prone to universalizing statements so that specifics of technology or art can be mined for universal, humanist truths. These pop-academic tendencies occasion sporadic insights, and the topic itself is rich with potential (as other thinkers have explored), but generally the text only glances over its own surfaces without reaching any expected intellectual or emotional payoff. B&w illus. (May)
Reviewed on: 05/13/2013
Release date: 05/01/2013
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 312 pages - 978-0-520-95443-4
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