MIRROR MIRROR: A History of the Human Love Affair with Reflection
by Mark Pendergrast
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Hardcover, 404 pages
1st edition (July 2003)
Basic Books; ISBN: 0-465-05470-6
Dimensions (in inches): 1.65 x 9.21 x 6.15
List price: $27.50. Temporary sale price: $10.00
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Of all human inventions, the mirror is perhaps the most intriguing, since it is so closely connected to our own consciousness, reflecting both reality and illusion. As our first technology for self-contemplation, the mirror is arguably as important an invention as the wheel and perhaps even more universal (the Incas, who had mirrors, did not invent wheels). Mirror Mirror is the fascinating story of the mirror’s invention, refinement, and use in an astonishing range of human activities — from the bloodthirsty smoking gods of the Aztecs to the fantastic mirrored rooms wealthy Romans created for their orgies, to the mirror’s key role in gathering light from the far reaches of the universe.
Pendergrast spins tales about:
• the 2,500-year mystery of whether Archimedes and his “burning mirror” really set fire to Roman ships.
• the medieval Venetian mirror-makers for whom any attempt to escape their cloistered island was punishable by death.
• John Dee, whose attempts to talk to angels in his magic mirror led to disaster and free love experiments.
• Isaac Newton, the obsessive genius whose intense experiments with sunlight on mirrors that nearly blinded him.
• Renaissance artists such as Jan van Eyck and Albrecht Dürer who used mirrors to revolutionize realistic representations of the world.
• George Ellery Hale, the manic-depressive astronomer, and George Ritchey, the arrogant optician, who joined forces to produce ever-larger telescope mirrors until their friendship shattered.
• Roger Angel, who now spin-casts the world’s largest mirrors underneath the University of Arizona football stadium.
• And many more rivetting stories and quirky characters.
This is the extraordinary tale of the reflective surface that means nothing without an observer – a truly blank slate – and yet has had a remarkable impact on myth, religion, science, psychology, business, and the arts. Like mirrors themselves, Mirror Mirror is a book that provokes wonder and discovery.
What the Reviewers Say:
“PSST — want to save $160,000? Don’t send your son to college; slip him this book instead. It shoehorns an entire liberal arts education into a cultural history of mirrors that touches on architecture, anthropology, sex, painting, myth, religion, math, science, magic, astronomy, literature, business, espionage and warfare, and travels from the Big Bang to the rise and fall of the Greek and Roman Empires, the waxing and waning of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the discovery of the New World and, at last, space: the final frontier. Anyone who masters the contents of Mirror Mirror need never fear Trivial Pursuit again.” — Liesl Schillinger, New York Times Book Review, Aug. 10, 2003
“Pendergrast is an affable guide on a wondrously labyrinthine tour. He explains complex phenomena with remarkable clarity, in a relaxed tone, and with a sense of humor. No detailed scientific knowledge is necessary to enjoy and understand Mirror Mirror. The subject, by its very nature, of course, requires copious and detailed illustrations, and our guide does not fail us. Twenty drawings and more than a hundred fascinating photographs enliven the volume.” –Ken Carroll, Philadelphia Inquirer, Aug. 10, 2003
“As with Uncommon Grounds, his history of coffee, Pendergrast has once again transformed something as ordinary as the bathroom sink into something magical. Henceforth, your own mirror will conjure up fairy tales, scenes from Shakespeare, faces of great scientists and demons mocking your vanity. In the end, Mirror Mirror itself is the ‘Love Affair with Reflection’ – the love of the evocative, suggestive power of stories.” – Melody Herr, San Francisco Chronicle, July 27, 2003.
“Mark Pendergrast, the ultimate free-lance journalist with an eclectic mind, writes about deceptively narrow topics that in fact have figured in world history for millennia…. In Mirror Mirror, Pendergrast gives mirrors the encyclopedia treatment, from the bathroom variety to their use in high-powered telescopes…. He so plainly wants his readers to become as fascinated in the seemingly mundane as he has become. Even his footnotes beckon, because they contain so much independent research, so much fascinating trivia.” – Steve Weinberg, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, July 6, 2003.
“In a comprehensive history of the mirror, Mark Pendergrast offers a workmanlike chronicle of all things reflective. From the Grimm brothers’ evil queen, to Louis XIV’s Hall of Mirrors, to the world’s largest kaleidoscope, he describes a remarkable array of looking glasses and provides rich texture to their cultural context.” –Rob Mitchell, Boston Herald, July 13, 2003
“Pendergrast writes passionately about something we rarely give much thought to: looking at ourselves in the mirror….He infuses old, dead characters such as Isaac Newton, René Descartes, and Galileo with actual breath and heart. Lovely wackos, all…. Also nice is the author’s commitment to weaving literature around the scientific advancements. As the reader is taken from the early Venetian glass blowers, to the mystic mazes of the fun houses, to modern mirror makers, we are accompanied by the likes of Plato, Shakespeare and Plath. Pendergrast subtly, and continually, reminds us that as glass-gazing morphed into the science of seeing moons and stars, the writers of the times reflected these changes.” – Lisa Gabriele, Toronto Globe and Mail, July 19, 2003.
“Mirror Mirror [is] a breezy tour of reflecting surfaces in science, literature, folklore, art, and religion – from, as it were, magic to murder; from Sumerian epic poetry to Star Wars… in addition to Snow White, Prester John, Nostradamus, Avicenna, Roger Bacon, and Isaac Newton; plus telescopes, microscopes, kaleidoscopes, periscopes, space shuttles, and David Hockney. Rainbows! Lasers! If only for the poetry – Borges, Yeats, Rilke, Shakespeare, Dante, Donne – Mirror Mirror is a cultural-studies treat…. Great fun here, concluding with a chapter on experiments…that tested ‘self-recognition’ by apes, elephants, and dolphins who looked at themselves for hundreds of hours in laboratory mirrors.”– John Leonard, Harper’s Magazine, July 2003
“In his latest work, Mirror Mirror, best-selling journalist Mark Pendergrast plunges into the shimmering world of images, optics, reflection and refraction. … This book, a literal ‘vision quest,’ traces the influence of the mirror and of the reflection on human psychology, spirituality, arts and sciences…. Pendergrast’s book is a fascinating tour of the beguiling, trickster world of mirrors, a journey that demands self-awareness and perspective (attributes that are, of course, enhanced by a good, long look in a mirror).” — Alison Hood, Bookpage, July 2003
“Throughout its history, Pendergrast shows, the mirror has symbolized vanity, self-examination, and the limits of human understanding…. Shifting to mirrors in science, Pendergrast describes optics from early philosophers’ theories of vision through quantum physicists’ discovery of light’s dual particle-wave nature.” — Publishers Weekly, May 5, 2003
“Pendergrast arranges a kaleidoscopic chronology that touches on people as different as Etruscans and NASA astrophysicists, and literature that encompasses both Shakespeare and advertising…. The author also highlights the fact that mirrors were rare luxury items, often invested with mysticism as reflectors of the soul or the future. Art and science mix in Pendergrast’s panorama…always intriguingly.” — Gilbert Taylor, Booklist, June 1, 2003
“Pendergrast traces the significance of reflective surfaces from ancient cultures to contemporary times…. As he reveals, mirrors played a significant role in the advancements of such scientific fields as optics, astronomy, and the study of light…. A worthwhile addition to general collections.” — Donna Marie Smith, Library Journal
“An encyclopedic treatment of the looking glass, from the bathroom variety to its use in high-powered telescopes. Pendergrast has an eclectic mind and writes about deceptively narrow topics that have, in fact, figured in world history for millennia. Here, he demonstrates how mirrors have been intimately connected to human consciousness…. Impressive in its wide-ranging research.” — Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2003
“Mirror Mirror is a terrific book, filling a gap in the history of art, psychology, and science. The history of optics and optical devices is shrouded in fog, and the reconstruction of the history of optical projections of reality — particularly using concave mirrors — is only just beginning.” — David Hockney, artist and author of Secret Knowledge
“From psychology to optics and astronomy, Mirror Mirror captures not only the history of the mirror but also both the science and the vanity of the creature who loves so dearly to peer into it. Mark Pendergrast has a knack for choosing subjects guaranteed to mesmerize the reader.” — Jon Franklin, author of Writing for Story and winner of two Pulitzer Prizes
“Mark Pendergrast captures the wonder of mirrors, which offer sight without touch — the opposite of blindness. From their use in conjuring, to probing the distant reaches of the universe, mirrors have charmed and delighted, confused and illuminated, in art and science, as well as serving the reflective gods of vanity.” – Richard Gregory, author of Mirrors in Mind
“In this rich, fascinating, and entertaining book, Mark Pendergrast demonstrates once again that, when it comes to the history of things, he’s where we look to see ourselves.” — Jennifer Scanlon, Professor of Women’s Studies, Bowdoin College, author of Inarticulate Longings
“A cheerful, wide-ranging book that presents mirrors in art, in literature, in science and daily life.” — David Park, author of The Fire Within the Eye
“Mark Pendergrast‘s specular spectacular casts light on the uses and abuses of reflected images throughout history, from the spirits of ancient Egyptians to the frontiers of fiber optics.” — Nicholas Wade, Professor of Visual Psychology, University of Dundee, Scotland
“From ancient scrying in magic mirrors to space telescopes, Mirror Mirror is a fascinating review of five thousand years of history. Studded with delicious nuggets from the history of science, and vivid personal glimpses of the lives of the scientists themselves, Pendergrast’s book is a deeply satisfying read.” — Tim Hawarden, Project Scientist for Extremely Large
Telescopes, UK Astronomy Technology Centre
“It is amazing how Pendergrast covers so many aspects of human endeavor, especially the history of physics and efforts to make better and larger mirrors, the basic tools of our Golden Age of Astronomy.” — Jacques M. Beckers, former Director of the Multi-Mirror Telescope and National Solar Observatories
“Mark Pendergrast‘s Mirror Mirror is all you ever wanted to know about a subject to which most of us have never given a second thought — except when trying to knot a bow tie in front of a mirror or setting the exposure on a camera. Mirror Mirror is a fascinating read! The difficulty for the reader will be to avoid showing off his new knowledge at dinner parties.” — Willem Lange, author of Intermittent Bliss and Where Does the Wild Goose Go?