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Plastic Hardcover – 28 Nov 1996

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins (28 Nov. 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0887307329
  • ISBN-13: 978-0887307324
  • Product Dimensions: 17.8 x 3.1 x 23.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 327,236 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


From pink flamingos and vinyl records to kevlar vests and artificial hearts to hula hoops and credit cards, plastic has invaded every aspect of modern life. Surpassing wood, cotton, steel and glass in all categories (except possibly good taste), this nearly indestructible material is the most revolutionary substance man has ever known. Tracing the obscure origins of synthetic materials, this book presents a century's worth of inventors, speculators and designers who transformed society and brought in the plastic invasion. Included are the early celluloid pioneer John Wesley Harding who pursued a quixotic quest to create the perfect man-made billiard ball and Wallace Carothers, inventor of nylon, who commited suicide just as the sexual revolution was about to be ushered in by his creation - nylon stockings.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

By A Customer on 1 Feb. 1999
Format: Paperback
Ever wonder about where things come from, how did they discover nylon, rayon, bakelite, tupperware, saran wrap? This book has the answers. Very readable.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 10 reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
An excellent read 18 Dec. 2008
By bee_pipes - Published on
Format: Hardcover
One would expect a history of plastic to be full of dreary minutia, of interest only to professional chemists. You couldn't be more wrong. The author is to be congratulated for taking a topic that could be dull and turning it into a historical account of how these substances have impacted our lives. Don't get me wrong, I am no lover of plastic but there are applications that require materials with the properties found in modern plastics. You just don't realize how crucial these substances are until you read this book.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
I have one word for you... 3 May 2000
By Julian Mason - Published on
Format: Paperback
This is a scholarly, tongue in cheek, thoroughly enjoyable peon to the most despicable of substances. Histories of science and industry could learn much from Mr. Fenichill's pleasing blend of knowledge and humor. This is one of my favorite books.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Superb history of plastic 1 Feb. 1999
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
Ever wonder about where things come from, how did they discover nylon, rayon, bakelite, tupperware, saran wrap? This book has the answers. Very readable.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A history tour of material innovations and inventors 2 Jan. 2006
By F. R Anscombe - Published on
Format: Paperback
Fenichell is highly readable. He has appreciation for inventors who have developed new materials for the service of society. His book offers a balanced perspective, with engaging anecdotes.

A mild criticism concerns organization. The book is a sequence of anecdotes about different plastics. Why one is mentioned before another is not clearly explained. As a result, the book feels like journalistic stream of conscious in appreciating materials, their purposes and inventors. This is respectful of the subject, but it is a bit hard to put into overall context and see a big picture.
I sell plastic for a living and I still really liked this book 30 Nov. 2012
By Spoolman - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Plastic: The Making of a Synthetic Century was written by Stephen Fenichell in 1996 as a history of the plastics business. It describes the winding path that a wide range of plastics took from the lab to the marketplace. The book is filled with many, many interesting anecdotes about the entrepreneurs who blazed that trail.

The book is organized into 13 chapters arranged, mostly, in chronological order. There is the predictable, "Just one word......Plastics" cliche from The Graduate movie used as a preface. The book begins with a late 20th century scene setting chapter. Mr. Fenichell then rolls the clock back 150 years to explain the commercialization of rubber, which he properly calls "Nature's Plastic".

There are chapters about celluloid, Bakelite, and cellophane with historical vignettes about their respective titans named Eastman, Baekeland and Brandenberger. There is a dramatic account of the tragic life of Wallace Hume Carothers, the inventor of nylon. But my favorite chapter is the one entitled, "Plast-O-Rama" which highlights the ways in which post-war America went bonkers for all things plastic. From Silly Putty and Hula Hoops to Frisbees and Tupperware and Saran Wrap, it's all in this book.

Overall it thought that the Pro's of this book were:
It's a good historical overview of plastic
It's loaded with facts about plastic

And I thought the only Con of this book was:
The history is presented out of chronological order for no apparent reason

This book will be of interest to:

20th century pop historians
polymer chemists
plastic trivia buffs
anyone who makes their living selling or producing plastic
employees or former employees of Dupont, Rohm & Haas, Eastman Kodak, Ford Motor Company and General Electric
industrial designers
material science students
manufacturing entrepreneurs
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