[Book Review] American Lucifers: The Dark History of Artificial Light, 1750-1865, by Jeremy Zallen

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

Abstract

Extract

The history of artificial light is often told as a story of progress: candles giving way to gaslights, gas yielding to electric lightbulbs, each innovation improving on the safety and convenience of its predecessor. Yet this narrative obscures what Jeremy Zallen calls a “dark history” of “struggles among the makers and owners” of light (p. 3). American Lucifers, a labor and environmental history of artificial light in the century before the Civil War, addresses electrification in an epilogue, but it centers on a less heralded set of illuminants, from spermaceti to kerosene, and the work regimes they engendered. The production and consumption of light bound far-flung ecologies together and tied incipient industrial modernities to systems of unfree labor. Zallen's wide-ranging research and vivid prose reveal the exploitation latent in every strike of a match.

Each chapter in American Lucifers examines a commodity used for lighting: whale oil, hog lard,...
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)823-824
Number of pages2
JournalJournal of American History
Volume108
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022

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