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Brilliant: The Evolution of Artificial Light

3.72  ·  Rating details ·  378 Ratings  ·  77 Reviews
Brilliant, reminiscent of Lewis Hyde’s The Gift in its reach and of Timothy Egan’s The Worst Hard Time in its haunting evocation of human lives, offers a sweeping view of a surprisingly revealing aspect of human history—from the stone lamps of the Pleistocene to the LEDs embedded in fabrics of the future.


Brox plumbs the class implications of light—who had it, who didn’t—th
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Hardcover, 368 pages
Published July 8th 2010 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published January 1st 2010)
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Lina Baker
May 21, 2013 rated it it was ok
I have to admit disappointment in this book. While aspects of it were interesting and engaging, I found it on the whole to lack focus and direction, and most importantly of all, to not really be about the history of light.

I had high hopes.
As an Interior Designer, my work relies heavily on the use of light, and as such I have learned fascinating things about it over the years: why HID lamps are used in conjunction with green signs on the highway, the methods of making a space illuminated to crea
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Laura
Jul 12, 2010 rated it really liked it
This was a really interesting book about something we pretty much take for granted: artificial light. Brox takes us back to the Stone Age discovery of how to harness fire. After that, light was pretty much unchanged until the 18th century when one after another, brighter and brighter sources of light, from whale oil to kerosene to gaslight, changed the way humans related to the night. After detailing the history of how we harnessed electricity for lighting, Brox turns to our dependence on electr ...more
Debbie
Nov 29, 2013 rated it it was ok
"Brilliant" was an interesting look at the evolution of light. The research was strong, but the writing was quite inconsistent with moments of poetic lyricism interspersed with poorly told stories and snippets if weakly veiled propaganda. I don't think I would read another book by this author, but I would consider recommending this book to someone with a deep interest in the subject. Overall, my response to the book us "meh."
Cordelia
Jul 19, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I was reading this at the same time as "The Zookeeper's Wife", which took a fascinating story and turned it into an unreadable book. "Brilliant", by contrast, took a mundane subject and turned it into a fascinating book. My time reading it was filled with discovery and enlightenment. One of those books I borrowed to read but now want to own.
Beth Browne
Feb 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
Fascinating, readable account of humankind's relationship with light. In the final chapter, titled "The Once and Future Light," Brox suggests that "we also need to think back to the past, to ask ourselves whether we are hampered more by brilliance than our ancestors ever were by the dark." A very good question.
Melody
Aug 27, 2011 rated it liked it
Interesting and comprehensive. It dragged in portions, loaded down with information, lumbering along. I learned a lot though. My favorite parts were the ancient times, the TVA electrification and the future of lighting. Some of it was familiar already- the disaster that lighting has caused among migratory birds, nesting turtles and astronomers- but the new information was fascinating.
Patrick
Oct 22, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
p.27 There would always be something of the cold taste of order in public lighting.
p.97-8 Benjamin Franklin, one of the eighteenth century's most tireless 'electricians'--a phrase he coined and by which electrical experimenters were then known.
p.130 Not until the 1867 Paris Exposition did a world's fair stay open at night.

A fascinating and thorough look at a subject that most people, including this reader, take for granted: artificial light. One of the strengths of the novel is the depth and bre
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Corinne
Aug 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
A very interesting book. I think it could have used a bit more editing. Some times it read like a science textbook, but overall I think it portrayed how artificial light has evolved over the centuries in an interesting and informative way.
Ronnie Cramer
Mar 18, 2017 rated it it was ok
A fascinating topic but an often laborious presentation.
Clark Hays
Nov 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
Note: This review also appears on Amazon.

Shines a light down many previously darkened paths

In a poetic, lyrical style mixed with equal parts journalistic reporting and historical research, Brox does a nice job of capturing a shadowy subject -- artificial light, what it has given us and what it has taken away.

From miners using the purifying flesh of luminescent fish to Inuits with seal blubber candles made of moss and stone, from seamstresses with tallow candles magnified through water lenses to
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JANE BROX is the author of Clearing Land, Five Thousand Days Like This One, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and Here and Nowhere Else, which received the L. L. Winship/PEN New England Award. She lives in Maine"
More about Jane Brox...
“Soon now, the faint tinkling of a broken filament will become another sound of another century.” 3 likes
“To reach the farthest chamber of Lascaux, it's likely a man had to snuff out his light, lower himself down a shaft with a rope made of twisted fibers, and then rekindle his lamp in the dark so as to draw the woolly rhinoceros, the half horse, and the raging bison there. A long spear transfixes that bison, and entrails pour from its side. Beneath its front hooves lies the one painted man in all of Lascaux: prone, spindly wounded, disguised behind a bird mask. And below him, until its discovery in 196o, lay a spoon-shaped lamp carved of red sandstone ... Hold it again as it once was held, and the animals will emerge out of darkness as you pass. Nothing stays still. Shadows nestle in the cavities; a flicker of light across pale protruding rock turns a hoof or raises a head. One shape recedes as another emerges, and everything lingers in the imagination.” 3 likes
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