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The Alchemy of Us: How Humans and Matter Transformed One Another Hardcover – Illustrated, 7 April 2020
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By explaining how inventions both exotic and mundane transformed society, Ramirez's ingenious survey illuminates the effect of science in a manner accessible to a wide readership.―Publishers Weekly
[T]echnology buffs should appreciate Ramirez's efforts to raise the attention of issues impacting scientists, engineers, and technologists.―Library Journal
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The stories are fascinating, and sometimes infuriating - read "Capture" to learn about the link between photography and apartheid, and the bias inherent in color film formulation. This book should be required reading for STEM students, as it provides necessary context for past technology and its intended and unintended consequences.
Students of history, political science, social justice -- in fact, anyone with a cell phone -- will benefit from this book, as it encourages the reader to ask thoughtful questions about the technology we use every day. Ramirez' storytelling skills and engrossing prose make science accessible to all readers.
Laypeople, students, scientists, and engineers who may already know something about the invention of the light bulb, accurate clocks, photographic materials, etc., will be treated to surprises in the backstory developed from Dr. Ramirez's diligent research.
Her clear and dramatic writing ranks with the best science writers: Neil deGrasse Tyson, Brian Greene, Carlo Rovelli, Sean Carroll, and the incomparable Jacob Bronowski. The eight engaging stores about well-known and unknown inventors weave together their lives, personalities, times, and science to illustrate, in the words of the author, "how humans and matter transformed one another."
My highest recommendation.
2. The author does just as good a job of describing the science stuff as she does the historic impact stuff behind each invention. I like how the author describes some negative effects behind certain inventions too. For example, cameras were at one time "racist"
" The film could not simultaneously capture both dark and light skin since an undetected bias was swirled into the film's formulation. The film was optimized for white skin. The chemicals to dutifully pick up a range of colors had long existed. But there was a secret partiality in the combination of these elements used for film's chemistries, favoring one range of color over another".
But the author also captures the positive effects certain inventions had on society like Steel for train tracks. "Society was swept up by the momentum propelled by trains full of Christmas trees, Christmas cards, and Christa gifts moving on the rails of steel.
cons 1. The author should have put images of each item/invention being described so we could visualize and understand what she was describing. Instead, all of the pictures for these various materials and inventions are located in one section later in the book.
2. Certain inventions like the phonograph had an interesting initial impact on society that I enjoyed reading about..but the author for whatever reason attempted to dive into some loose boring impact of an invention like this one on society. When it comes to the phonograph the author tried to convince me that the phonograph had some big impact on data. Not only was this argument not all that compelling but it made for a boring read.
3. The last chapter "think" didn't make me well... think as the previous chapters did. It wasn't as interesting and it simply focused on an invention that just simply wasn't as impactful or interesting as the previous ones.