Michael Egan. Barry Commoner and the Science of Survival: The Remaking of American Environmentalism. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007. xi + 320 pp. $28.
A tireless advocate for science and social justice, Barry Commoner spent the better part of three decades in the eye of the storm, working to establish a democratic science that linked a well-informed public with scientists and elected officials. In recent decades, Commoner has all but vanished from the public view. Michael Egan's new book traces the path of Commoner's career from celebrity scientist, to presidential candidate, to a continuing role in constructing new understandings of the world and our place in it. Along with Rachel Carson, Paul Ehrlich, and other scientists, Commoner helped to bridge the divide between the emerging ecological sciences, social movement, and political action by sounding the alarm of an impending crisis. By examining the relationship between Commoner's careers as a scientist and as an activist, Egan reconnects the threads of environmentalism, social justice, and the birth of the modern ecological sciences. Today the relationship between science, politics, and the populace has become contentious, if not outright hostile. Egan's telling of the life, science, and politics of Barry Commoner reminds us of a time when scientists could be activists, and science and activism could coexist.—Jody Roberts
Brenda J. Buchanan, Ed. Gunpowder, Explosives and the State: A Technological History. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2006. xxiii + 425 pp. $95.
In Gunpowder, Explosives and the State, essays by 23 contributors offer an account of gunpowder's development, its use, the products needed for its production, and its place in history as a commodity of international trade. Gunpowder is exceptional because it was both a marketable commercial product across Europe and a vital component for national security, at least through the end of the 19th century. This gives gunpowder-as-commodity a privileged (albeit ignored) role not only in worldwide markets, but in the rise and survival of states. Nations' need for gunpowder was often in direct conflict with their need to obtain the raw materials used to produce gunpowder in an international, often uncontrolled market. Gleaned from a series of conference papers presented at the International Committee for the History of Technology from 1996 to 2002, this collection demonstrates the unappreciated importance of gunpowder in world affairs.—Ralph R. Hamerla
Nylon valve, 1940s–1950s
©2010 Chemical Heritage Foundation