The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance

The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance

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by Henry Petroski
     
 

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Henry Petroski traces the origins of the pencil back to ancient Greece and Rome, writes factually and charmingly about its development over the centuries and around the world, and shows what the pencil can teach us about engineering and technology today.


From the Trade Paperback edition.  See more details below

Overview

Henry Petroski traces the origins of the pencil back to ancient Greece and Rome, writes factually and charmingly about its development over the centuries and around the world, and shows what the pencil can teach us about engineering and technology today.


From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this age of the computer, Petroski's delightful, elegant history of the lowly pencil is a mind-sharpener, a revelation. The pencil's slow evolution from metallic-lead stylus paralleled the growth of engineering prior to the Industrial Revolution. In America, the saga of pencil-making encompassed gentlemanly cabinetmaker Ebenezer Wood and philosopher/amateur engineer Henry David Thoreau; the latter, while working in his father's pencil business, hit upon the idea of combining graphite and clay. In modern times, pencil-making was transformed from cottage industry to mechanized science, with a boost from international trade rivalries, the Faber manufacturing family of Germany and engineers' quests for perfection. Toulouse-Lautrec said, ``I am a pencil.'' John Steinbeck was seemingly obsessed with his pencils' points, shapes and sizes. Petroski ( To Engineer Is Human ) illuminates the intersection of engineering, history, economics and culture. Illustrated. (Jan.)
Library Journal
The invention of the pencil was a landmark in the history of ideas. Weaving cultural history into a tale of various engineering and industrial practices, Petroski here traces its development and use in a lively, almost ``biographical'' manner that is aimed at the general reader. The pencil first appears in antiquity, and its subsequent forms are treated historically. Several chapters explore specific design aspects; the final chapters consider the sociological and philosophical significance of the pencil as a working tool. This well-crafted survey is an appropriate purchase for academic and public libraries, since its contents are a straightforward contribution to the story of technology.--Paula A. Baxter, NYPL
School Library Journal
YA-- An incredibly rich and complex history of this entirely unremarkable instrument of communication. Petroski explains the origins of its name, traces the search for suitable supplies of lead and wood, and explains why most pencils have six sides. He does all of this in an informative and entertaining style in a book made richer by its illustrations. The author does, however, have an ulterior motive. He uses the history of the pencil to provide numerous illustrations of the process called engineering, from design to manufacture and marketing. He also points out that engineering is a social phenomena, influenced by economic conditions, national rivalries, and other, often surprising elements. Many high school students, especially those with an interest in design, will enjoy this book. Portions of it could be used to provide lessons in economics as well as engineering and design.-- James Rose, Jefferson Sci-Tech, Alexandria, VA
From the Publisher
"Very engaging and wonderfully informative.... The Pencil unfolds a history of invention, craftsmanship, engineering, manufacture and business that is also at times a history of cultural life on both sides of the Atlantic...No reader of this book will ever be able to pick up a pencil again without marveling."

— Hilton Kramer, Newsday

"So engrossing that I read it through in one sitting... An utterly absorbing history

— Martin Gardner, Raleigh News and Observer

"Beguiling...surprising, entertaining, informative. One could scarcely ask a book to be more!... using the story of the pencil as a paradigm, Petroski shows how the process of engineering unfolds and [how] the pencil is the end result of process that parallels those by which products of much greater sophistication — computers, for example — are invented designed manufactured and improved."

— Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post Book World

"A serious and charming history... Petroski argues his case with wry humor and an amplitude of anecdotage drawn from many centuries and continents. The Pencil is that great rarity, a book that will appeal to ordinary readers and yet seems destined as well to become a minor classic in academe."

— Cullen Murphy, The Atlantic

"You will never feel the same about the pencil after you read this terrific book."

— Larry King, USA Today

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780307772435
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
02/16/2011
Sold by:
Random House
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
448
Sales rank:
212,428
File size:
7 MB

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"Very engaging and wonderfully informative.... The Pencil unfolds a history of invention, craftsmanship, engineering, manufacture and business that is also at times a history of cultural life on both sides of the Atlantic...No reader of this book will ever be able to pick up a pencil again without marveling."

— Hilton Kramer, Newsday

"So engrossing that I read it through in one sitting... An utterly absorbing history

— Martin Gardner, Raleigh News and Observer

"Beguiling...surprising, entertaining, informative. One could scarcely ask a book to be more!... using the story of the pencil as a paradigm, Petroski shows how the process of engineering unfolds and [how] the pencil is the end result of process that parallels those by which products of much greater sophistication — computers, for example — are invented designed manufactured and improved."

— Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post Book World

"A serious and charming history... Petroski argues his case with wry humor and an amplitude of anecdotage drawn from many centuries and continents. The Pencil is that great rarity, a book that will appeal to ordinary readers and yet seems destined as well to become a minor classic in academe."

— Cullen Murphy, The Atlantic

"You will never feel the same about the pencil after you read this terrific book."

— Larry King, USA Today

Read More

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