She narrates the story of man-made light in 'gracious, elegant and unhurried prose.' She reveals along the way that the story of light is also the story of our evolving selves, from the stone lamps of ancient forbears to tallow candles, whale oil and gaslight to the incandescent globe and LED lights.
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. Tracing the fascinating history of human light, from stone lamps to the lightbulb, the story of light is also the story of evolving humanity. The class, social and environmental implications of providing light has shaped historical eras: crude lamps and tallow candles constricted waking hours and drove the crazed hunting of whales for their oil towards environmental disaster. Gaslight helped to create leisure hours in the evening and allowed the emergence of vibrant street life in cities while incandescent light changed the ways we live and sleep. Jane Brox asks the reader to consider the cost of the current grid system for providing light.