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The Evolution of Useful Things: How Everyday Artifacts-From Forks and Pins to Paper Clips and Zippers-Came to Be as They Are.by Henry Petroski
Synopses & Reviews
Only Henry Petroski, author of The Pencil, could make one never pick up a paper clip again without being overcome with feelings of awe and reverence. In his new book the author examines a host of techno-trivia questions how the fork got its tines, why Scotch tape is called that, how the paper clip evolved, how the Post-it note came to be, how the zipper was named, why aluminum cans have hollow bottoms — and provides us with answers that both astonish and challenge the imagination.
In addition to an extended discussion of knives, forks, spoons, and other common devices, the author explains how the interplay of social and technical factors affects the development and use of such things as plastic bags, fast-food packaging, push-button telephones, and other modern conveniences. Throughout the book familiar objects serve to illustrate the general principles behind the evolution of all products of invention and engineering. Petroski shows, by way of these examples as well as a probing look at the patent process, that the single most important driving force behind technological change is the failure of existing devices to live up to their promise. As shortcomings become evident and articulated, new and "improved" versions of artifacts come into being through long and involved processes variously known as research and development, invention, and engineering. He further demonstrates how the evolving forms of technology generally are altered by our very use of them, and how they, in turn, alter our social and cultural behavior.
In this wonderful mixture of history, biography, and design theory, Henry Petroski brings us to an understanding of an essential question: By what mechanism do the shapes and forms of our made world come to be?
"Petroski liberally mixes biography, social history, design theory and even word derivations into these affectionately told tales...The Evolution of Useful Things is readable and entertaining." Chicago Tribune
"Reading The Evolution of Useful Things, you never know when you will turn a page and find some tiny corner of your mind enlightened." New York Times
"Petroski...examines the simplest...tools in our lives with an appraising eye." Washington Post
How did the table fork acquire a fourth tine? What advantage does the Phillips-head screw have over its single-grooved predecessor? Why does the paper clip look the way it does? What makes Scotch tape Scotch?
In this delightful book Henry, Petroski takes a microscopic look at artifacts that most of us count on but rarely contemplate, including such icons of the everyday as pins, Post-its, and fast-food "clamshell" containers. At the same time, he offers a convincing new theory of technological innovation as a response to the perceived failures of existing products—suggesting that irritation, and not necessity, is the mother of invention.
Petroski tells fascinating stories about the arduous processes that resulted in paper clips, Post-its, Phillips-head screwdrivers, Scotch tape, and fast-food "clamshell" containers. "Petroski . . . an examines the simplest . . . tools in our lives with an appraising eye."--Washington Post Book World. 45 illus.
Includes bibliographical references (p. 265-273) and index.
About the Author
Henry Petroski is the Aleksander S. Vesic Professor of Civil Engineering and Professor of History at Duke University. He is the author of more than ten books.
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