Sunday, April 24, 2005


Raiders of The Lost Wax Method

In reading through an old 1947 copy of the Saturday Review of Literature, I came across what sounds like the most boring book title ever. And yet there's a surprisingly positive review for Nelson S Knagg's -- wait for it -- Adventures in Man's First Plastic: The Romance of Natural Waxes.

The jacket promises "The story of natural waxes -- a romance with all the adventure and excitement of a novel!"

Um... yeah.

Anyway, the reviewer notes:

This is no ordinary book about the history, geography, and technology of wax. Mr. Knaggs has made his book a vastly entertaining description of travel in foreign places.... His opening chapter describes the search for wax-bearing palms in the Amazon Region.... [others reveal] the secrets of the mummies of Egypt, or of casting by the "lost wax" method.... Possibly the title will not tempt many readers and this is too bad, for the book is unusually entertaining. It might well serve as a model of successful accomplishment in popularizing a technical subject.

Alas, Knagg was about half a century early for the vogue for just this sort of book. Photoshop up a snappy new cover and rename it Hot Wax: The Exotic Secret That Changed The World, and it'll move 5000 copies before anyone starts noticing the present-tense references to Studebakers and Adlai Stevenson.

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