The Roots of Progress

Plastic: The Making of a Synthetic Century

Stephen Fenichell

A history of plastic, from the earliest experiments in the mid-1800s through the environmentalist backlash in the 1990s. Covers all the major developments, including celluloid, Bakelite, nylon, vinyl, Teflon, PET, and more. I enjoyed this book and gained a new appreciation, nay awe, for plastic and its contributions to the world.

Consider, for instance, this excerpt singing the praises of Bakelite, an early plastic: “Bakelite’s reputation was made… as an electrical insulator vastly superior to any natural material on the market. It was more electrically resistant than porcelain or mica; more chemically stable than rubber; more heat resistant than shellac; less liable to shatter than glass or ceramic; it would neither crack, fade, crease, nor discolor under the influence of sunlight, dampness, or salt air; it was impervious to ozone, contained no sulfur to cause the ‘greenling’ (degradation over time) suffered by hard rubber, and could not be weakened by hydrochloric acid or blemished by alcohol. Contact with oil- or grease-stained fingers would not warp, mar, or disfigure it; it was virtually impervious to natural or human attack.”

Recommended for anyone with an interest in the subject.

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