Consider the humble chair. It's a ubiquitous object, and we likely sit in several different chairs each day. But we rarely, if ever, give it much thought. What material is it made of? How was it constructed? Where was it made? Was it designed by a craftsperson or mass produced?
In Fewer, Better Things, scholar and former museum curator Glenn Adamson inspires readers to reflect on the physical items they encounter. Adamson is a passionate advocate of material intelligence, which promotes an understanding of the craft and production of objects in material environments--from the most treasured possessions to mundane items taken for granted. As technology makes objects more abundant, it also makes people less materially intelligent. Adamson's tour of the material world includes a Japanese tea ceremony, with its reverence of objects, as well as innovative museums that allow patrons to interact physically with artifacts. Adamson also considers the influence of tools throughout history, how craft has responded to new materials, and the artisans who are masters in their fields.
But there's more to material intelligence than understanding an item's physical characteristics. Adamson argues that objects cross cultural barriers ("they may require interpretation, but not translation") and provide a shared understanding of culture and history. By creating meaningful connections to objects, we can move towards a sustainable world where we surround ourselves with fewer, but better, things. --Frank Brasile, librarian