Plastics evoke an ambivalent response. Hailed on the one hand as liberating materials of the modern age, with close links to technological advances in photography, film, electronics and computers, plastics, on the other hand, are seen as symbols of vulgarity, inauthenticity and low quality. With 16 essays by Roland Barthes, Jean Baudrillard, Ezio Manzini, Barbara Radice, John Gloag and others, this eye-catching, copiously illustrated anthology charts the varied cultural meanings plastics have acquired. Beginning with the first semi-synthetics used in the 1860s as substitutes for ivory and tortoiseshell, the contributors examine objects ranging from portable irons to dresses and compact-disc players. They identify a late 1950s aesthetic of organic curves and sleek surfaces, pioneered by European product designers, which gave way to today's multiplicity of styles, with plastics proving to be a flexible material well-adapted to postmodernist pluralism. Sparks is a professor at London's Royal College of Art.