Each development of artificial light, from stone lamps to the lightbulb, along with its companion invention, electricity, has transformed human civilisation and shaped the way we live. The implications of providing light has shaped historical eras: crude lamps and tallow candles constricted waking hours and their meagre illumination restricted daily life, oil lamps created the crazed hunting of whales for their oil while gaslight helped to create leisure hours in the evening and allowed the emergence of vibrant street life in cities.
Edison’s invention of the lightbulb seemed to produce light that required no human effort or cost and yet, as Jane Brox shows, the environmental cost of that system of lighting is still with us. With the spread of light pollution the majority of the Earth’s population can no longer see the Milky Way in the night sky, Jane Brox brilliantly explores how the technology behind artificial light has been the catalyst for industrialisation and consumerism yet it has also led to a disconnection from the natural rhythms of the earth.
In the tradition of Mark Kurlansky’s Cod in its reach and scope, Brilliant is a compelling story of how human lives have been changed by light, and timely questions about how the light of the future will continue to shape our lives. Bringing the increasingly important issue of light pollution to the fore, Brilliant is full of the voices of those whose lives were revolutionised by artificial light over the centuries, and with stunning insights into how science has directed human history and will continue to do so in the future.
Jane Brox has been a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. She is currently the Coastal Studies Scholar at Bowdoin College, Maine.
“An illuminating study… Fascinating… Brox’s concern for the local, the everyday, the rural and the poor gives her book a universal appeal.”
“Few people today appreciate the impact the incandescent lamp made following its invention in 1879. In Brilliant, Jane Brox captures the before-and-after. Beginning with lamps carved from limestone 40,000 years ago, she expertly traces the tortuous route to artificial light.”
“Jane Brox’s extraordinary history of artificial light is aptly named. It’s not just a record of technological innovation; it’s a great human fable about how we went from desperately fending off darkness to searching for the last vestiges of true night in a light-bedazzled world.“
“Like Edison’s incandescent bulb… Brox’s history is warm and illuminating.”
The Washington Post
“This is an illuminating, beautifully written history” Read Nicholas Lezard’s Guardian review: HERE