The Alchemy of Us Book Summary - The Alchemy of Us Book explained in key points
Listen to the Intro

The Alchemy of Us summary

Ainissa Ramirez

How Humans and Matter Transformed One Another

4.4 (69 ratings)
23 mins
Table of Contents

    The Alchemy of Us
    Summary of 8 key ideas

    Audio & text in the Blinkist app
    Key idea 1 of 8

    Improved timekeeping technology deepened our obsession with time.

    Elizabeth Ruth Naomi Belville made her living by selling a rather odd commodity. Every week, she’d travel to the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, London. There, she’d set her pocket watch – it was nicknamed “Arnold” and had once belonged to the Duke of Sussex – to Greenwich Mean Time. Once this had been done, she’d visit the dwellings of the people subscribed to her service.

    What was that service? Allowing them to set their clocks to Arnold. This is how Belville made her living for almost 50 years, from 1892 until her death in 1940: she sold the time. People called her the Greenwich Time Lady.

    The key message here is: Improved timekeeping technology deepened our obsession with time.

    Belville was successful because Arnold was accurate – very accurate. Made of the finest materials, Arnold kept the time better than other clocks, even though it’d been made in the eighteenth century. But in the twentieth century, even Arnold’s accuracy was surpassed.

    In 1939, a new kind of clock was displayed in the window of a shop on Fulton Street, in Manhattan, New York. Soon enough, hundreds of passersby were using this extremely accurate clock to set their own timepieces.

    The clock was so fantastically accurate because it contained a special kind of crystal: quartz. Quartz is special because, when exposed to an electrical current, it begins to vibrate. In 1927, a Canadian scientist named Warren Marrison figured out how to use this quality to improve the precision of clocks. He fashioned a small, thin ring out of quartz. Then, using electrical signals, he caused the ring to vibrate at a steady rate of 100,000 vibrations per second. This mechanism could be used to measure time with stunning precision.

    Improved time-keeping methods only served to reinforce certain time-related ideologies. Puritan settlers, who arrived in America in the seventeenth century, strongly believed that time should not be wasted. This view was perpetuated by Benjamin Franklin’s capitalist notion that “time is money.” Throughout the nineteenth century, as the United States industrialized and the factory became the main driver of the economy, timekeeping and time management assumed even greater importance.

    Factories relied on clocks to tell workers when to start working and when to stop. It wasn’t long before the rhythm of the factory pervaded all of modern life – dictating when people awoke, when they ate, and when they slept.

    This certainly improved productivity. But it’s been argued that this rhythm, which is still with us today, is also at the root of many sleeping disorders.

    Want to see all full key ideas from The Alchemy of Us?

    Key ideas in The Alchemy of Us

    More knowledge in less time
    Read or listen
    Read or listen
    Get the key ideas from nonfiction bestsellers in minutes, not hours.
    Find your next read
    Find your next read
    Get book lists curated by experts and personalized recommendations.
    Shortcasts New
    We’ve teamed up with podcast creators to bring you key insights from podcasts.

    What is The Alchemy of Us about?

    The Alchemy of Us (2020) offers a history of some of the most important technologies ever developed, from clocks to glass to the steel rails used to make railway tracks. It explains how these technologies were created and explores how they shaped human culture.

    Best quote from The Alchemy of Us

    As technologies become more pervasive in our lives, whom they were built for and optimized for will be an important discussion.

    —Ainissa Ramirez
    example alt text

    Who should read The Alchemy of Us?

    • People curious about the innovations that paved the way for computers
    • Those who want to know how technology has changed our brains and our bodies
    • History buffs interested in the great inventions of modern times

    About the Author

    Ainissa Ramirez is a materials scientist and science communicator. She has written for Time, Scientific American, the American Scientist, and Forbes. She makes regular appearances on PBS's SciTech Now.

    Categories with The Alchemy of Us

    Books like The Alchemy of Us

    People ❤️ Blinkist
    Sven O.

    It's highly addictive to get core insights on personally relevant topics without repetition or triviality. Added to that the apps ability to suggest kindred interests opens up a foundation of knowledge.

    Thi Viet Quynh N.

    Great app. Good selection of book summaries you can read or listen to while commuting. Instead of scrolling through your social media news feed, this is a much better way to spend your spare time in my opinion.

    Jonathan A.

    Life changing. The concept of being able to grasp a book's main point in such a short time truly opens multiple opportunities to grow every area of your life at a faster rate.

    Renee D.

    Great app. Addicting. Perfect for wait times, morning coffee, evening before bed. Extremely well written, thorough, easy to use.

    People also liked

    Start growing with Blinkist now
    28 Million
    Downloads on all platforms
    4.7 Stars
    Average ratings on iOS and Google Play
    Of Blinkist members create a better reading habit*
    *Based on survey data from Blinkist customers
    Powerful ideas from top nonfiction

    Try Blinkist to get the key ideas from 7,000+ bestselling nonfiction titles and podcasts. Listen or read in just 15 minutes.

    Start your free trial