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Clay: The History and Evolution of Humankind's Relationship with Earth's Most Primal Element, by Suzanne Staubach

Clay is crucial to the computer and space industries, bio-technology, and publishing. The potter's wheel was the first machine. With the invention of pottery came cooking and storage vessels, ceramics, the discovery of alcoholic beverages, the oven, clay tablets for the first written communication, irrigation for agriculture, vast trade networks, plumbing, sanitation, and an incredibly durable building material. Much of the Great Wall of China was made of fired clay bricks--a material that can stand for centuries.

Now, Suzanne Staubach presents a lively look at how civilization was built on clay--from the first spark plugs to modern semi-conductors, satellite communications to surgical equipment. "Clay" is a fascinating, colorful look at how, from the primordial ooze to modern miracles, this most humble of substances continues to shape our world in ways limited only by the imagination.

From Publishers Weekly:

Staubach, a potter and freelance writer, successfully communicates the passion she feels for her material (both literal and literary) in this extensively researched overview of clay. What is this ubiquitous stuff? It began as granite, which over millions of years was ground down by rain, sleet, snow and chemical forces into what we now know as clay. The first known clay objects were small religious figures, followed by pottery vessels, in Neolithic times. The oldest such pottery known was produced by the Joman peoples of Japan. In addition to an informed discussion of clay ovens used by various cultures over time, the author compares these cultures' designs as pottery grew to be an art form. Ancient Greeks, for example, created a unique appearance by controlling the atmosphere of their kilns. Clay, Staubach says, has served many purposes: clay tablets were used for the earliest writing; it also became the key ingredient for building houses and, in modern times, sewer pipes and flush toilets. Some sections of this account will be of most interest to potters, pottery aficionados or those with an interest in earth science, but Staubach leavens her facts with captivating anecdotes throughout. Photos. Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.

From Booklist:

Clay has been a useful, ubiquitous material throughout history. Staubach has arranged her chapters according to clay's functional uses (as construction material or containers, in artwork, and so forth), and her background as a potter imbues her prose with a thematic intimacy. Cool and slimy, clay is what the hands make of it, and it itself is simply a product of weathered rock, composed of aluminum, silicon, and water. Stepping off from the physical reason clay becomes rigid when fired (the expulsion of the water), Staubauch tours globally the ancient archaeology of clay-made objects: fertility amulets, pots, amphora, cuneiform tablets, and ziggurats built from sun-dried bricks. Drying one's creation in the sun or putting it in an open fire worked, but kiln firing worked better. Staubach describes kilns, and the kiln's ability to control temperature, which made possible harder bricks, glazing, and porcelain. An eclectic treatment that encompasses chamber pots and the art pottery movement of the early 1900s, Staubach's enthusiastic history will please people at the potter's wheel. Gilbert Taylor Copyright © American Library Association.

About the Author

Suzanne Staubach has been involved with pottery for more than 30 years and has written for Ceramics Monthly, Garden Way, Mother Earth News, College Store Journal, Fine Gardening, Old Farmer's Almanac, and Parents.

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