Thursday, May 31, 2007

'Edison's Eve' by Gaby Wood

As I've spent a lot of time off-line lately, it's neccessary that I post a second miniature book report for today's entry. This one was originally published in the UK as 'Living Dolls' and is subtitled 'A Magical History of the Quest for Mechanical Life'.

Some books are a challenge to get through because they sugggest so many interesting images and ideas that are easy to follow through in your own head when you should be paying attention to the text. This was true for my experience with this anecdote-filled book. Beginning around the time of Descartes in the 17th Century and winding up sometime around the talkie revolution in Hollywood, Ms Wood's micro-history of automated dolls entertains too well to feel like a substantial read. Yet, in the days since I last put it down I'm more convinced that it is a neccessary book - especially if you're interested in the development of humans' understanding of the senses, which is a theme more suggested at than actually taken on by the author.

For this reader, it's when Ms. Wood links her history of automated puppets to the pre-history of the cinema in the late 19th Century and motion-perception that the book leaps into a higher frame of intrigue. But like so many micro-history books, Wood's breezy essaic style turns too purposeful in the last chapter - about a troupe of little people called The Doll Family (the principle actors in Tod Browning's singular 01932 film 'Freaks') - where the author tries to shoehorn some broad thesis about the Twentieth Century that I either couldn't follow or seemed too obtuse for me to believe such an intelligent writer was trying to make. Anyway, the book was a treat. It made me want to design and make really cool toys.

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