“A very fun, largely chronological journey through invisibility, beginning with myth and early magicians, ending with quantum physics.” —The New Yorker
In this lively look at a timeless idea, Ball provides the first comprehensive history of our fascination with the unseen. This sweeping narrative moves from medieval spell books to the latest nanotechnology, from fairy tales to telecommunications, from camouflage to ghosts to the dawn of nuclear physics and the discovery of dark energy. Along the way, Invisible tells little-known stories about medieval priests who blamed their misdeeds on spirits; the Cock Lane ghost, which intrigued both Samuel Johnson and Charles Dickens; the attempts by Victorian scientist William Crookes to detect forces using tiny windmills; novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s belief that he was unseen when in his dressing gown; and military efforts to enlist magicians to hide tanks and ships during WWII. Bringing in such voices as Plato and Shakespeare, Ball provides not only a scientific history but a cultural one—showing how our simultaneous desire for and suspicion of the invisible has fueled invention and the imagination for centuries.
In this unusual and clever book, Ball shows that our fantasies about being unseen—and seeing the unseen—reveal surprising truths about who we are.
“Full of insights drawn from a broad survey of history, literature and philosophy; wherever the invisible is being contemplated, Ball is there to select the juiciest anecdotes . . . [He] is a lucid, witty and highly entertaining guide.” —The Globe and Mail
“A tour-de-force history capped off with an animated discussion of H.G. Wells’s novel The Invisible Man.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)