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The Alchemy of Us: How Humans and Matter Transformed One Another

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4.23  ·  Rating details ·  31 ratings  ·  14 reviews
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
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Hardcover, 328 pages
Published April 7th 2020 by MIT Press
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Brian Clegg
May 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
Materials science is one of the hardest topics to make interesting, probably only beaten in the potential dullness stakes by geology, but Ainissa Ramirez achieves the near-impossible of making the subject genuinely engaging, essentially by hardly covering materials science at all, but rather telling stories of people and their inventions with a materials science context. This is the kind of book academic publishers (and even more so academic authors) rarely achieve - lyrical and quirky, jumping ...more
Subhralin
Apr 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Perhaps the greatest irony that mankind will ever witness is that the machines that we made are going to be ruling us by changing our vision as well as outlook. Since discoveries and inventions are imperative to foster human civilization in the loop of time and space complexity.

Ainissa Ramirez in 'The Alchemy of Us' has breathed a method to value those aspects of modernization with an uncommon approach, which is not only intriguing but also admirable in the context of those who invented and dis
...more
Lynn
Dec 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Many years ago, I was fascinated by a television series entitled Connections and its host, James Burke. I was, therefore, totally interested in this book, which shows the connection between a seemingly unrelated object and the wonders that unfold after its creation.

A book to be read again, and again, and again.

Published by MIT Press, 2019
Geoff
Dec 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
The impact of eight inventions are examined on (mostly US) society, and the author does a good job of showing how and why each invention arose and what problem it solved. these stories are fascinating and very well written and often have multicultural angles that I never knew about.

She's slightly less convincing when she attempts to show how each invention then changed us. For example, in the first section on time she discusses the way that accurate, regimented measurement of time led to change
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Brian Hutzell
May 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
What a great book! Ramirez aimed The Alchemy of Us squarely at the general public, and she hit her mark. The text is informative without burdening the reader with academic-speak. Having recently a few scholarly books on theology, this comes as welcome relief. Ramirez includes a thorough annotated bibliography, which is also highly readable, for anyone wishing to pursue further the subjects under discussion. (I was especially happy to see a book by Hendrik Willem van Loon on her list!)

The downsi
...more
Floyd
Apr 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
Ainissa Ramirez has written a fascinating book. Each chapter begins by looking at the need for a well-known invention, then at the steps leading to its creation, and finally, at the repercussions (both good and bad) the invention has had on 21st-century culture. It is a wonderful blending of history, science, and culture.

The book is very readable - written for a high school senior or the college-educated public. Anecdotes leading to the invention are interesting as they portray events less famil
...more
Book
Apr 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Ainissa Ramirez writes a remarkable and intriguing book highlighting eight inventions – clocks, steel rails, telegraph wires, photographic film, light bulbs, hard disks, scientific glassware, silicon chips.

Profiling the individuals who contributed to each invention, the author relates the story of how each came to be. And then, Ms. Ramirez discusses each invention’s impact on humans and the relationship that evolves.

The first chapter on time and clocks is fascinating. In 1908, Ruth Belville sol
...more
Andrew Maynard
Apr 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The Alchemy of Us takes readers on a journey of delight into the seeming-mundane, and reveals just how deeply the materials we create and work with have changed us over time. I must confess that I was already predisposed to enjoy Ainissa Ramirez' book, as a physicist and materials scientist - but I was surprised at just how much it drew me in. I found myself serendipitously delighted by snippets of knowledge that I hadn't come across before, yet with hindsight make perfect sense. And Ramirez' pe ...more
Laura
May 13, 2020 rated it liked it
Loved this take on telling the human stories of inventions that shaped humanity. What I loved: Ramirez includes vivid details, real lives, messy processes & failures. Every chapter had intrigue and surprise. Invention stories framed in ways I'd not experienced them before.

Found less appealing: the moralizing slant of hand-wringing over the adverse affects of technology. The endings of each chapter reminded me of Nicholas Carr and other hot takes "on today's society" and concerns about technolog
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Mark
May 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
My favorite commentator on SciTech Now on PBS TV. She is both brilliant and extremely articulate which comes across in this fascinating book. She transforms the stories of notable inventions with the dramatic tales and characters involved. She includes, of course, her discipline -- materials science to describe how new types of glass tubes, ceramics, crystals allowed for some of the key inventions to be commercialized. Her commentary rides along with the history to give us much to reflect on. A ...more
Cynthia
May 16, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: couldn-t-finish
i wanted to like it. the author seems interesting and i like this type of book; but she jumps around a lot and repeats information and much of the information is kind of superficial. overall i didnt trust her as a conveyor of knowledge and i didnt trust she could guide me through her complex topic.
Jennifer
This is one of those "history through objects" books, but it also takes the time to look at the intersections of technology and race, which I really appreciated. Some sections were more interesting to me than others, but overall I think this is a welcome addition to the technology collection, and it would be of interest to high school libraries looking for high-interest nonfiction.
Eric Jackson
May 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, science
I liked the approach of the author and many of the scientific discoveries origins were shown in a more holistic light, including social and personal factors. The book as a whole however never grabbed me in its narrative making it a start and stop reading. Worth it though.
Prajna Kandarpa
May 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The author is a really good storyteller and this is a science book that focuses on inventors and their highly personal stories and skims completely on the science bits in order to appeal to the general public. Highly recommend!!
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Ainissa Ramirez, Ph.D. is a materials scientist and science communicator who is passionate about getting the general public excited about science. A Brown and Stanford graduate, she has worked as a research scientist at Bell Labs and held academic positions at Yale University and MIT. Ramirez has written for Forbes, Time, Science, The Atlantic, American Scientist and Scientific American, and has e ...more

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