A Toy Story

Edison's Eve resembles a ramshackle cabinet of curiosities, full of miscellaneous bits and pieces sticking out all over. The chapter on the Doll Family (four dwarf siblings who starred in the Ringling Bros. Circus) is awkwardly shoehorned into Wood's "man or machine" theme. Even more bizarrely, the book glosses over today's cutting-edge humanoid robotics technology, with brief drive-by mentions in the intro and epilogue. Wood's lucid prose and storytelling ability carry the book, but her subject matter seems disparate and undigested, as if she never really got around to molding her research into fully fledged ideas. The book barely touches on the fantasy relationship between children and dolls and doesn't consider how the historical fascination with automatons translates in our post-Furby world.

Gaby Wood plays the brainy bloodhound sniffing each doll maker’s mystery.
photo: Hugo Glendinning
Gaby Wood plays the brainy bloodhound sniffing each doll maker’s mystery.

Details

Edison's Eve: A Magical History of the Quest for Mechanical Life
By Gaby Wood
Knopf, 304 pp., $24
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Wood's refusal to engage with contemporary cybertheory—even if only to tussle with writers like Haraway or Plant, who tread similar ground—makes Edison's Eve seem like a nostalgic venture through the marvelous but dusty archives. A victim, we may presume, of the author's very human imperfection.

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