American Plastic: A Cultural History

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American Plastic: A Cultural History

Jeffrey L. Meikle

Winner of the 1996 Dexter Prize from the Society for the History of Technology and a 1996 CHOICE Oustanding Academic Book.

From Publishers Weekly

Meikle, professor of American studies and art history at the University of Texas, presents a splendid history of plastic. The book is authoritative, thorough, interdisciplinary and intriguing. As aptly characterized in the preface, "the narrative itself takes on a certain plasticity, touching in turn on the histories of technology and invention, of industry and marketing, of industrial design and consumer culture." The author adroitly balances the different perspectives. He traces the course of plastics from 19th-century celluloid and the first wholly synthetic bakelite, in 1907, through the proliferation of compounds (vinyls, acrylics, polystyrene, nylon, etc.) and recent ecological concerns. Amply considered in context are the cultural influences of plastics, which sprang from the original motives of "substitution, imitation, and innovation" to condition our present perceptions, language, lifestyles and expectations. The general attitude of the public toward this industry is ambivalent; the historical details prove instructive. Interested readers of whatever predisposition will likely enjoy this comprehensive and thoughtful treatise.

From Library Journal

While many people would like to think that this is the Information Age, we are in fact living in the Age of Plastics. Since 1979 the production of plastic has far outpaced that of steel. It is doubtful that any of us could envision our world without plastics. From the Barbie dolls we grew up with to the cars we drive, for better or worse, plastics have shaped the world we live in. This scholarly and comprehensive work, by an American studies professor and author of Twentieth Century Limited: Industrial Design in America, 1925-1938 (Temple Univ. Pr., 1981), is nontechnical and emphasizes the social and cultural impact of plastics. Meikle's book is so enjoyable that this reviewer began underlining and writing margin notes while reading. Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in understanding contemporary society.
James Olson, Northeastern Illinois Univ. Lib., Chicago


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