Now that best-selling journalist Mark Pendergrast has investigated the facts and intrigue that lurk behind a commonplace cup of java and that other universal caffeinated beverage, Coca-Cola (the subjects of his books Uncommon Grounds and For God, Country and Coca-Cola), he holds up yet another ubiquitous object for analysis: the mirror. In his latest work, Mirror, Mirror: A History of the Human Love Affair with Reflection, he plunges into the shimmering world of images, optics, reflection and refraction.
"Mirrors," says Pendergrast, "are meaningless until someone looks into them." And look he does, in a baker's dozen of historical and scientific essays that bear evidence of his exhaustive research and world travel. This book, a literal "vision quest," traces the influence of the mirror and of the reflection on human psychology, spirituality, arts and sciences. The volume starts with a simple, serene tale about one man's wondrous discovery of his own reflection in a pool of water. From there, it quickly grows into a complex chronology of the mirror's development, from ancient civilization's first reflective ornaments of polished minerals to today's sophisticated land and space telescopes. Along with technological sections on the development of optics, astronomy and quantum physics, Pendergrast recounts the more ephemeral history of mirrors one marked by magical, metaphorical and entertaining uses that has framed man's search for self-understanding. Pendergrast's book is a fascinating tour of the beguiling, trickster world of mirrors, a journey that demands self-awareness and perspective (attributes that are, of course, enhanced by a good, long look in a mirror). Unfortunately, the author's love affair with technical minutia leaves little room for more thoughtful consideration of what we human beings see or think we see in the glass. Overall, though, Mirror, Mirror is a worthy work of historical and scientific reportage that readers will find rewarding. Alison Hood is a writer who lives in San Rafael, California.