Human beings are surrounded by surfaces: from our skin to faces, to the walls and streets of our homes and cities, to the images, books, and screens of our cultures and civilizations, to the natural world and what we imagine beyond. In this thought-provoking and richly textured book, Joseph A. Amato traces the human relationship with surfaces from the deep history of human evolution, which unfolded across millennia, up to the contemporary world. Fusing his work on Dust and On Foot, he shows how, in the last two centuries, our understanding, creation, control, and manipulation of surfaces has become truly revolutionary—in both scale and volume. With the sweep of grand history matched to existential concerns for the present, he suggests that we have become the surfaces we have made, mastered, and now control, invent, design, and encapsulate our lives. This deeply informed and original narrative, which joins history and anthropology and suggests new routes for epistemology and aesthetics, argues that surfaces are far more than superficial façades of deep inner worlds.
Joseph A. Amato is Emeritus Professor of History at Southwest Minnesota State University. He is the author of Dust (UC Press), On Foot: A History of Walking, Victims and Values: A History and Philosophy of Suffering, Rethinking Home: A Case for Local History (UC Press), and Jacob’s Well: A Case for Family History.
"Amato's creativity and breadth of analysis ensures Surfaces a prominent place in environmental history. . . . Highly recommended."—J. P. Davis CHOICE
"Amato presents a thoughtful and persuasive case about the omnipresent place, role, power and importance of surfaces."—Robert Brusic Practical Thinking
"Surfaces have a bad press: superficial, skin deep, ersatz, they are what gets scratched when depth is lacking. With this wonderful history of the world as a collage of surfaces, Joe Amato sets the record straight. Surfaces define our relationship to the world, they have their own poetry, aesthetics, science, glamour and wonder. My chagrin at not having thought of this idea first is wholly obviated by the fact that Amato has done such a gorgeous job."—Philip Ball, author of Shapes: Nature's Patterns: A Tapestry in Three Parts
“More immediate than Foucault, deeper than Bryson, highly original, deeply sensitive, and amazingly informed, Surfaces
is one of the great books of the twenty-first century. It is eloquent and beautiful, based on solid thought and spelled out with imagination, emotion, refined speculation, and a rich yet simple language. Joseph Amato’s intricate eye for the details of daily life seamlessly joins history, art history, natural science, and anthropology in a narrative of natural and artificial surfaces and the depths beyond them.” —Jeffrey Burton Russell, Emeritus Professor of History, University of California, Santa Barbara
is utterly unique and almost defies categorization. Amato romps over vast landscapes of intellectual and artistic terrain, demonstrating intellectual breadth, insight, and creativity. This is an exciting book—bold, provocative, poetic—that invites contemplation and opens the reader’s mind to the depth and complexity of the human experience."—Donald A. Yerxa, senior editor, Historically Speaking
"Who would have thought of writing a history of surfaces? Joseph Amato displays superior scholarly range and imagination in this lively, flowing, and often inventive study of humans' relationship with their world. Surfaces offers us many intriguing and frequently surprising insights about a subject that we have never thought of in quite this way before. This is an enormously ambitious and thought-provoking book."—Allan Megill, author of Historical Knowledge, Historical Error: A Contemporary Guide to Practice