Brilliant: The Evolution of Artificial Light

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June 30, 2010 at 04:00 AM EDT

Although fires sputtered on hearths for half a million years, they were, by and large, lit for warmth, not light — so as recently as a few hundred years ago, daily activities ground to a halt as the sun set. Eventually the guttering light of candles gave way to better inventions, from whale-oil lamps to electric bulbs, each triggering a greater dependence on man-made lights. In Jane Brox’s hands, a yawn-inducing subject has been fashioned into an addictively readable cultural history. In a word: dazzling. A

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