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Brilliant: The Evolution Of Artificial Light by Jane Bronx

01/08/2011. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Brilliant: The Evolution Of Artificial Light in the USA - or Buy Brilliant: The Evolution Of Artificial Light in the UK

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pub: Souvenir Press Ltd. 360 page enlarged paperback. Price: GBP20.00 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-28536-899-0.

check out website: www.souvenirpress.co.uk

Look at the light fitting hanging from your ceiling. We take lighting so much for granted that we forget how it evolved from candles made from whale blubber to gaslight chiefly to light the streets and make us less dependent on daylight for our activities. Jane Brox’ book, ‘Brilliant: The Evolution Of Artificial Light’, will enlighten you in detail of how this process developed. Oddly, had the early candles been successful then I think it would have slowed down the desire to create better lights. The importance of reading this book is the understanding it can bring to Science Fiction design.

What is covered here is not just the creation of light but also the understanding why we needed it in the first place and its sociological effects. There is also the evolution of technology combined with a reasonable price making it affordable to all. What we take for granted today was still something of a novelty at the turn of the last century. It wasn’t until the 1930s that wide-scale electrically powered lamp-posts littered the streets and changed people’s behaviour habits.



Probably the most significant development had to come with the development of power generation. Edison opted for direct current figuring it was the safer option. His rival, Testa went for alternating current with step-up generators to increase the voltage. The second problem was getting a filament that would arc electricity and give light but at the same time not burn out. Probably the most significant thing done was having a vacuum in the bulb as without air, oxidation would be reduced.

A third of this book is devoted to looking at how people behaved when after getting used to night lighting had to suddenly get used to not having it as happened in World War Two London, as everywhere in the UK at the time. For an American, Jane Bronx did actually give a good account of this even if she did forget to mention the wardens going around chastising anyone who showed even a glimmer of a light.

The nearest equivalent for you Americans reading this was in 1965 when a power–cut turned off large chunks of New York although this was an overall power-cut rather than voluntary so other things, like lifts...sorry, elevators, stopped in mid-stream as well. That changes how any city inhabitants would react and more a demonstration of what having no electricity at all does.

There is also a look at light pollution and the advances into LED lighting which will reduce heat loss but still give a good night light. I wish Bronx had covered the low-power consumption lamps but I guess they aren’t used outside yet.

About the only thing I can fault with the book is there are no corresponding numbers in the main text to the notes at the back of the book. Bronx writes in an easy informed style that really puts you into the situation of the time period and brings a whole new meaning to let there be light.

GF Willmetts

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