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  • Published: 7 April 2020
  • ISBN: 9780262043809
  • Imprint: MIT Press
  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 328
  • RRP: $47.99

The Alchemy of Us

How Humans and Matter Transformed One Another



In the bestselling tradition of Stuff Matters and The Disappearing Spoon: a clever and engaging look at materials, the innovations they made possible, and how these technologies changed us. In The Alchemy of Us, scientist and science writer Ainissa Ramirez examines eight inventions—clocks, steel rails, copper communication cables, photographic film, light bulbs, hard disks, scientific labware, and silicon chips—and reveals how they shaped the human experience. Ramirez tells the stories of the woman who sold time, the inventor who inspired Edison, and the hotheaded undertaker whose invention pointed the way to the computer. She describes, among other things, how our pursuit of precision in timepieces changed how we sleep; how the railroad helped commercialize Christmas; how the necessary brevity of the telegram influenced Hemingway's writing style; and how a young chemist exposed the use of Polaroid's cameras to create passbooks to track black citizens in apartheid South Africa. These fascinating and inspiring stories offer new perspectives on our relationships with technologies. Ramirez shows not only how materials were shaped by inventors but also how those materials shaped culture, chronicling each invention and its consequences—intended and unintended. Filling in the gaps left by other books about technology, Ramirez showcases little-known inventors—particularly people of color and women—who had a significant impact but whose accomplishments have been hidden by mythmaking, bias, and convention. Doing so, she shows us the power of telling inclusive stories about technology. She also shows that innovation is universal—whether it's splicing beats with two turntables and a microphone or splicing genes with two test tubes and CRISPR.

  • Published: 7 April 2020
  • ISBN: 9780262043809
  • Imprint: MIT Press
  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 328
  • RRP: $47.99

Praise for The Alchemy of Us

"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 "A fascinating new treatise" Science "Entertaining and elucidating—popular science done right, with enthusiasm and without dumbing-down."  —Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW "The Alchemy of Us is a brilliant historical examination of inventions that have changed society, and was recently recommended by Ed Yong. Materials scientist Ainissa Ramirez does a truly tremendous job drawing connections between historical events and the materials that made them possible. Her storytelling is superb—this is the book you can easily lose yourself in, especially if you mostly read fiction and want to try nonfiction, but are worried about being bored. Ramirez language is active and accessible. But her book is timely, paying special attention to the ways in which race and privilege and sex have played roles in the invention of certain materials or objects and their uses and influence. We need more voices of Black science communicators like Ramirez to fill our bookshelves, and she is certain to inspire more." Science Friday, selected as one of the Best Summer Science Books Of 2020 "Packed with engaging, little-known stories from the history of science, the book provides sharp, straightforward explanations of the materials science behind these tales.”  Science News "Material scientist Ainissa Ramirez offers up a highly readable exploration of how eight inventions—quartz clocks, steel rails, copper communication cables, silver photographic film, light bulbs, hard disks, labware and silicon chips—have both intentionally and inadvertently shaped our world." Smithsonian Magazine  "Enjoyable to a broad audience"  — Chemistry World “We live in a world so dominated by our own inventions that, as Ainissa Ramirez observes, we've reinvented ourselves to accommodate them. The Alchemy of Us is at once timely, informative, and fascinating—a totally compelling work.” —Elizabeth Kolbert, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Sixth Extinction   “In The Alchemy of Us, Ainissa Ramirez tells the stories of the stuff that surrounds us in our modern world. Her tales are surprising, revealing, and delightfully told.” —Carl Zimmer, author of She Has Her Mother's Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity   “In this timely and beautifully written book, Ainissa Ramirez shows how developments in materials science have shaped lives, nations, and diverse communities. As well as championing an often neglected but vital scientific discipline, it is a wonderful account of how science and technology affect us all and why we must be alert to their implications and consequences.” —Philip Ball. author oBeyond Weird and How to Grow a Human   “This book is full of interesting vignettes of inventions you might think you know about. However, you are unlikely to know the colorful histories of the people behind the stories or all the consequences of the inventions, as spelled out here.” —Professor Dame Athene Donald, Professor of Experimental Physics, University of Cambridge, and Master of Churchill College   “It's easy to

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