cover image Brilliant: The Evolution of Artificial Light

Brilliant: The Evolution of Artificial Light

Jane Brox, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25 (388p) ISBN 978-0-547-05527-5

A superb history of how the availability of ever more artificial light has changed our world over the centuries, from stone lamps in prehistoric caves to contemporary light-emitting diodes (LEDs). No simpleminded technological determinist, Brox (Here and Nowhere Else) appreciates how culture and technology have affected each other at every stage. She repeatedly reveals how humankind’s increasing ability to extend the hours of light available for work and for leisure has been critical to the evolution of societies almost everywhere. Her readings of, for example, prehistoric southern French caves, medieval and early modern villages, whaling and other ships, industrializing cities, Chicago’s White City of 1893, and wartime and peacetime blackouts are invariably fascinating and often original. In addition, she conveys technical information clearly and concisely. Brox’s concluding portions, about the unexpected negative effects of too much artificial light on observatories in southern California and elsewhere, are provocative and dismaying. With Brox’s beautiful prose, this book amply lives up to its title. (July)