ALAN MACFARLANE is Professor of Anthropological Science at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of King's College and of the British Academy. He is a well-known author and television presenter. His fourteen books include Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England, The Origins of English Individualism and The Riddle of the Modern World.

GERRY MARTIN is a former Managing Director and co-founder of Eurotherm Ltd. He has long been a historian of glass instruments and particularly microscopes.

"Glass is one of the greatest accidents in the history of humankind. This is the first full story of its development and effects. Alan Macfarlane and Gerry Martin present an account of how glass has been made and used from its discovery in the ancient Near East, through Roman civilisation, the European Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, and up to the present.

They not only chart the history of glass technology, but also show the remarkable effect glass has had on every aspect of western culture. Glass windows made the cold north of Europe habitable and civilised. Without glass we would know little about the movement of stars and even less about microbes. Our artists would draw without perspective and our ships would steer without accurate navigation. There would be no planes or cars, and probably no electricity.

In a brilliant and controversial exploration of the causes of east-west differences the authors show the crucial role of glass in the divergence of western and eastern civilisations, and in the process explain why so many Japanese and Chinese wear glasses. Glass is so familiar that we are hardly aware of it. This book brings glass and the world it has made into sharp focus. It changes the way we see the past and the present."