The alchemy of us : how humans and matter transformed one another

by Ramirez, Ainissa, 1969-

Format: Print Book 2020
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Northern Tier Regional Library New Book IN TRANSIT
Location  Northern Tier Regional Library
Collection  New Book
In the bestselling tradition of Stuff Matters and The Disappearing Spoon : a clever and engaging look at materials, the innovations they made possible, and how these technologies changed us.

In The Alchemy of Us , scientist and science writer Ainissa Ramirez examines eight inventions--clocks, steel rails, copper communication cables, photographic film, light bulbs, hard disks, scientific labware, and silicon chips--and reveals how they shaped the human experience. Ramirez tells the stories of the woman who sold time, the inventor who inspired Edison, and the hotheaded undertaker whose invention pointed the way to the computer. She describes, among other things, how our pursuit of precision in timepieces changed how we sleep; how the railroad helped commercialize Christmas; how the necessary brevity of the telegram influenced Hemingway's writing style; and how a young chemist exposed the use of Polaroid's cameras to create passbooks to track black citizens in apartheid South Africa. These fascinating and inspiring stories offer new perspectives on our relationships with technologies.

Ramirez shows not only how materials were shaped by inventors but also how those materials shaped culture, chronicling each invention and its consequences--intended and unintended. Filling in the gaps left by other books about technology, Ramirez showcases little-known inventors--particularly people of color and women--who had a significant impact but whose accomplishments have been hidden by mythmaking, bias, and convention. Doing so, she shows us the power of telling inclusive stories about technology. She also shows that innovation is universal--whether it's splicing beats with two turntables and a microphone or splicing genes with two test tubes and CRISPR.

Published Reviews
Publisher's Weekly Review: "Ramirez, a materials scientist and science writer, devotes her fine debut to the impact of eight inventions. While some might seem obvious--steel railroad tracks, light bulbs, telegraph wires, and silicon chips--Ramirez has a knack for finding unexpected examples of their impact. Railway lines, she argues, by making consumer products newly available on a national scale, enabled the transformation of Christmas, with big business's connivance, into today's gift-giving occasion: "The Christmas we know was born in a boardroom, swaddled in steel." Some of her choices may seem less obvious, including clocks and scientific glassware. But here, too, Ramirez makes a persuasive case for their transformative power. Standardizing and improving glass's chemical configuration made it an invaluable material in scientific laboratories, thus leading to "an understanding of how our bodies work, how the heavens move, and how other worlds exist in a drop of water." Making clocks more accurate, meanwhile, helped end the once-widespread practice of "segmented sleep," in which people customarily slept in two separate phases over the course of a night. By explaining how inventions both exotic and mundane transformed society, Ramirez's ingenious survey illuminates the effect of science in a manner accessible to a wide readership. (Apr.)"
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Additional Information
Subjects Materials -- History -- Popular works.
Inventions -- History -- Popular works.
Technology -- Social aspects -- Popular works.
Publisher Cambridge, Massachusetts :2020
Language English
Description xv, 308 pages : illustrations (black and white) ; 23 cm
Bibliography Notes Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 9780262043809
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