Invisible: The Dangerous Allure Of The Unseen

Paperback | February 25, 2016

byPhilip Ball

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If offered the chance—by cloak, spell, or superpower—to be invisible, who wouldn’t want to give it a try? We are drawn to the idea of stealthy voyeurism and the ability to conceal our own acts, but as desirable as it may seem, invisibility is also dangerous. It is not just an optical phenomenon, but a condition full of ethical questions. As esteemed science writer Philip Ball reveals in this book, the story of invisibility is not so much a matter of how it might be achieved but of why we want it and what we would do with it.

In this lively look at a timeless idea, Ball provides the first comprehensive history of our fascination with the unseen. This sweeping narrative moves from medieval spell books to the latest nanotechnology, from fairy tales to telecommunications, from camouflage to ghosts to the dawn of nuclear physics and the discovery of dark energy.  Along the way, Invisible tells little-known stories about medieval priests who blamed their misdeeds on spirits; the Cock Lane ghost, which intrigued both Samuel Johnson and Charles Dickens; the attempts by Victorian scientist William Crookes to detect forces using tiny windmills; novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s belief that he was unseen when in his dressing gown; and military efforts to enlist magicians to hide tanks and ships during WWII.  Bringing in such voices as Plato and Shakespeare, Ball provides not only a scientific history but a cultural one—showing how our simultaneous desire for and suspicion of the invisible has fueled invention and the imagination for centuries.

In this unusual and clever book, Ball shows that our fantasies about being unseen—and seeing the unseen—reveal surprising truths about who we are.

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If offered the chance—by cloak, spell, or superpower—to be invisible, who wouldn’t want to give it a try? We are drawn to the idea of stealthy voyeurism and the ability to conceal our own acts, but as desirable as it may seem, invisibility is also dangerous. It is not just an optical phenomenon, but a condition full of ethical question...

A renowned science writer, Philip Ball  lives in London. His many books include Curiosity: How Science Became Interested in Everything and Serving the Reich: The Struggle for the Soul of Physics under Hitler, both also published by the University of Chicago Press.

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:322 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.9 inPublished:February 25, 2016Publisher:University Of Chicago PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:022637825X

ISBN - 13:9780226378251

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Customer Reviews of Invisible: The Dangerous Allure Of The Unseen

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Extra Content

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Preface
 
1. Why We Disappear
2. Occult Forces
3. Fear of Obscurity
4. Rays that Bridge Worlds
5. Worlds Without End
6. All in the Mind
7. The People Who Can’t Be Seen
8. Vanishing Point
9. Bedazzled and Confused
10. Unseen at Last?
 
Notes
Bibliography
Index

Editorial Reviews

“Humans have always been fascinated with the unseen, as evidenced by efforts to find ways to render themselves or objects invisible and to devise ways to see into the unseen world surrounding them.  A respected science writer, Ball (who has been an editor at Nature for many years) takes readers on an entertaining tour through the ages, starting with the ancients' belief in myths and continuing into the present via the Victorian fascination with spirits and the occult, the discovery of X-rays, the development of microscopes, and the mostly secret research into ‘stealth’ materials. . . . Highly recommended.”