"The Object Lessons series achieves something very close to magic: the books take ordinary—even banal—objects and animate them with a rich history of invention, political struggle, science, and popular mythology. Filled with fascinating details and conveyed in sharp, accessible prose, the books make the everyday world come to life. Be warned: once you've read a few of these, you'll start walking around your house, picking up random objects, and musing aloud: 'I wonder what the story is behind this thing?'"
—Steven Johnson, bestselling author of How We Got to Now
"In 1957 the French critic and semiotician Roland Barthes published Mythologies, a groundbreaking series of essays in which he analysed the popular culture of his day, from laundry detergent to the face of Greta Garbo, professional wrestling to the Citroën DS. Object Lessons continues the tradition."
—Melissa Harrison, Financial Times
Short, beautiful books published in print and electronic formats by Bloomsbury.
While we all use remote controls, we understand little about their history or their impact on our daily lives. This book offers lively analyses of the remote control’s material and cultural history to explain how such an innocuous media accessory can change the way we occupy our houses, interact with our families, and experience the world. From the first wired radio remotes of the 1920s to infrared universal remotes, from the homemade TV controllers to the Apple Remote, remote controls shape our media devices and how we live with them.
This book explores the composition, history, kinetic life, and the long senescence of golf balls, which may outlive their hitters by a thousand years, in places far beyond our reach. They embody our efforts to impose our will on the land, whether the local golf course or the Moon, but their unpredictable spin, bounce, and roll often defy our control. Despite their considerable technical refinements, golf balls reveal the futility of control. They inevitably disappear in plain sight and find their way into hazards. Golf balls play with people.
Drones are in the newspaper, on the TV screen, and swarming through the networks. But what are drones? The word encompasses everything from toys to weapons. And yet, as broadly defined as they are, the word “drone” fills many of us with a sense of technological dread. This book will cut through the mystery, the unknown, and the political posturing, and talk about what drones really are: what technologies are out there, and what’s coming next; how drones are talked about, and how they are represented in popular culture. It turns out that drones are not as scary as they appear—but they are more complicated than you might expect. In drones, we find strange relationships that humans are forming with their new technologies.
Smart essays you can't write for anyone else, published online by The Atlantic.
The Military Origins of Layering
The popular way to keep warm outdoors owes a debt to World War II–era clothing science.
Rachel S. Gross
The idea of wearing many light articles of clothing rather than a few heavy ones was everywhere: my brother’s Boys’ Life magazines, advertisements from my local outdoors store, my summer camp’s suggested packing list. But, like any way of dressing, layering had to be invented.
A schoolteacher created the popular board game, which celebrates its 70th anniversary this year, for quarantined children.
Alexander B. Joy
If you were a child at some point in the past 70 years, odds are you played the board game Candy Land. According to the toy historian Tim Walsh, a staggering 94 percent of mothers are aware of Candy Land, and more than 60 percent of households with a 5-year-old child own a set.
How a Bad Night’s Sleep Birthed the Sound Conditioner
In 1960, a Rubbermaid executive invented a device to tame noise in the home. Its impact has been anything but quiet.
The sound conditioner is one of the oldest examples of “personal therapy sensory devices.” The market for these technologies was said to be more than a billion dollars back in 2006, in a rare moment when someone bothered to study them.
“Nobody is using them.” It might seem like that would spell doom for the dental dam. But it has managed to live on: first as a staple of sex education, but now as a symbol of sex positivity for queer women—whether or not anybody ever uses them.