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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The world in vitro
After hearing the author of this remarkable book interviewed on Radio 4's Start the Week, I rushed to get a copy, and I have not been disapointed. The book describes the role which glass has played in the advancement of Man and civilization. It demonstrates the remarkable effect of NOT using glass as it was used in the West had on the worlds of Islam and the Orient. My...
Published on 21 July 2002 by Amazon Customer

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2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
There's a lot of promise in this book, not to mention a fairly bold set of hypotheses about how glass has been central not only to the evolution of Western science, but also to Western consciousness generally. However, the promise is not fulfilled. There's a number of big holes and problems with the argument - for example, given the claims about myopia in China, how can...
Published on 28 Dec. 2003


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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The world in vitro, 21 July 2002
This review is from: The Glass Bathyscaphe: How Glass Changed the World (Hardcover)
After hearing the author of this remarkable book interviewed on Radio 4's Start the Week, I rushed to get a copy, and I have not been disapointed. The book describes the role which glass has played in the advancement of Man and civilization. It demonstrates the remarkable effect of NOT using glass as it was used in the West had on the worlds of Islam and the Orient. My only criticism is the author's style--what he has to say is exciting and very interesting, but much of the spark of his message is hidden in verbosity, he could certainly have come to the point much quicker and with more impact--perhaps he feared that the book would be too short! Robert Temple's excellent book, THE CRYSTAL SUN deals with the development and use of lenses in antiquity in a more complete manner.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely fascinating!, 15 Aug. 2006
This book stands head and shoulders above the many "material histories" that have appeared over the last few years (e.g. salt; fish; spices): it overflows with fresh insights, original ideas, and interesting objects for speculation. Don't miss it!
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4.0 out of 5 stars Through a glass, clearly, 5 April 2014
This review is from: The Glass Bathyscaphe: How Glass Changed the World (Hardcover)
“…imagine waking in a world where glass had been…uninvented. All objects, technologies and ideas that owe their existence to glass have gone.
…miniaturized clocks and watches cannot exist without the protective facing of glass…there can be no light switch, for there is no glass for the light bulb. When we draw back the curtains a blast of air strikes us through the glassless windows. If we suffer from short sight, we can see clearly for about ten inches. If we have long sight… we will not be able to read…
There is no television…for with no screen it cannot exist…we see no cars, buses, trains or aeroplanes, for without windscreens none of them can operate…
There would almost certainly be no electricity, since its first generation depended on…turbines, which required glass for their development. So there would be no radios, no computers, or email …Our fields would produce less than one twentieth of their current yield without the fertilizers discovered by chemists using glass tools.
…There would be no understanding of the world of bacteria and viruses, no antibiotics… epidemic and endemic diseases…would everywhere be as rife as they were at the end of the eighteenth century.”

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the question of why we live in a world dominated by Western ideas. This is a question to which many differing answers have been proposed, from luck to pluck, from latitudes to attitudes etc.
Wisely, the authors do not claim to have found “the” reason for I think that there is no monocausal explanation but they do offer a strong case for a contributory cause which I hadn’t heretofore come across – at least to such a strong degree – namely the different uses to which glass was put across the great Eurasia civilizations. (As an aside I think world histories pay grossly insufficient attention to the availability of paper. In part the Chinese led for so long in many areas because they invented paper and had it for centuries before the secret of paper-making was learnt by the Arabs. I don’t think it’s entirely a coincidence that the Golden Age of Islam then ensued. Once the technique reached Christendom the West went from playing catch-up to pulling ahead. The printing press using movable type came later and its importance was in large part conditional on the availability of paper).
The authors trace the history of its glass from its invention in either ancient Mesopotamia or ancient Egypt and its spread eastwards and westwards through its widespread use by the Romans trough to its technical improvements in medieval Venice and later in England with the development of lead glass. (This having been said this is not intended as a technical history of the development of glass-making rather of "How Glass Changed the World").
They then distinguish between five uses of glass, not all of which were equally availed of across Eurasia.
Firstly there is the ubiquitous use of glass for jewellery.
Secondly there is the use of glass for drinking vessels. Here China was handicapped by the high quality of its porcelain. We still drink our tea from China from “china” so the Chinese didn’t have the incentive to develop glassware. Westerners who couldn’t make such high quality ware did have an incentive to develop drinking glasses, especially wine drinkers who liked to see what they were drinking. This lead to technical improvements, with the development of crystal glass in Venice. (Early microscopes used cristallo).
Thirdly there is the use of glass for window panes. Here Europeans living north of the Alps – and thus further north than any other civilization – had a practical incentive to keep the cold and the rain out while letting sunlight in. Christians also developed a religious incentive in the form of the stained-glass window in churches and cathedrals. Window panes were not as prevalent outside of Northern Europe where again there was a technical improvement in the form of lead glass.
Fourthly there is the use of glass for mirrors. Here again it was Europe that developed the glass mirror – as opposed to the metal one – that would be of such use to artists and scientists. It would be hard to paint a self-portrait, or indeed to develop perspective to the degree to which it was developed during the Renaissance, without it. Mirrors have also played a key role in the development of the telescope.
Finally there is the use of glass for lenses, prisms and scientific instruments. Here again Western Europe lead the way after the invention of “glasses”. Given that lenses are necessary for telescopes and microscopes it is hard to imagine the Scientific Revolution without them. Nor could chemistry have developed without assorted beakers, tubes, etc. And how could you measure temperature accurately without a thermometer?
The authors consider the impact of the use and non-use of glass for these differing purposes across civilizations of what they describe as “the only substance which is a real extension of a human sense organ, and the most powerful one at that, the eye”.

“The Glass Bathyscaphe” gives a whole new way of looking at knowledge. Forgive the pun.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, 27 Jun. 2011
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A fascinating book, that really makes you think about the delicate balance of life and culture. How something like glass which is taken so much for granted in the modern world could have such far reaching consequences in the development of various cultures around the world.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a book to dip into, 6 Sept. 2007
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J "jan" (Derbyshire, England) - See all my reviews
I've not read all of this book yet - I find it hard going if I try to read it from front to back, but opening it at random always finds something to think about.
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2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, 28 Dec. 2003
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There's a lot of promise in this book, not to mention a fairly bold set of hypotheses about how glass has been central not only to the evolution of Western science, but also to Western consciousness generally. However, the promise is not fulfilled. There's a number of big holes and problems with the argument - for example, given the claims about myopia in China, how can we account for the success of Chinese astronomy? Granted, Europeans were more accurate, but the fact that there was such a science in 17th-century China belies a big problem with the argument.
There's also a few problems with the way the book's written. The account of how glass is made - why it occurred to anyone to add lead, say - is cursory: this is annoying in a book that is about glass. And there's a whole stack of typographical and grammatical errors, which is pretty unforgivable.
Finally, as far as I can tell, the word "bathyscaphe" appears nowhere except in the title. If it was that word that intrigued you in the first place, you're better off just looking in a dictionary.
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The Glass Bathyscaphe: How Glass Changed the World
The Glass Bathyscaphe: How Glass Changed the World by Alan MacFarlane (Hardcover - 14 July 2002)
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