“The Mirror: A History” by Sabine Melchior-Bonnet

"The Mirror: A History" by Sabine Melchior-Bonnet

"Like Henry Petroski’s The Pencil or Galen Cranz’s The Chair, this elegant and entertaining work makes us reconsider an object at once simple and extraordinary. From antiquity to the present, the mirror has consistently occupied a unique place in our imaginations: as a site of the divine or demonic, of lucidity or madness. Through its lens, Sabine Melchior-Bonnet shows how the material world has worked its way into our consciousness, affecting the very way in which we perceive ourselves.

Melchior-Bonnet embellishes The Mirror with numerous surprising and compelling anecdotes. She describes Johannes Gutenberg plying his metallurgical skills to produce mirrors before turning to the printing press, and narrates how the Venetian Republic employed a combination of both subtle intimidation and outright assassination to protect its mirror-making secrets. Lewis Carroll’s playful treatment of the mirror is contrasted to a short story of Rainer Maria Rilke, which describes the potential for madness within the reflective glass. The modern psyche’s confusion in a world dominated by images is best captured by Andy Warhol’s quip, “I am sure that I am going to look into the mirror and see nothing.”

The Mirror is cultural history at its best: a dazzling, virtuoso performance that readers of books like Carlo Ginzburg’s The Cheese and the Worms or Robert Darnton’s The Great Massacre will not be able to pass up."