The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance

( 14 )

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.

Traces the origins of the pencil back to Ancient Greece and Rome; shows us how it is made; tells the story of the pencil's most famous makers.

...
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The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance

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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.

Traces the origins of the pencil back to Ancient Greece and Rome; shows us how it is made; tells the story of the pencil's most famous makers.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

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

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
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679734154
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/28/1992
  • Edition description: REP
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 626,636
  • Product dimensions: 5.25 (w) x 9.23 (h) x 0.88 (d)

Interviews & Essays

Exclusive Author Essay
Writing About Things

For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by things large and small. I wanted to know what made my watch tick, my radio play, and my house stand. I wanted to know who invented the bottle cap and who designed the bridge. I guess from early on I wanted to be an engineer.

In Paperboy I have written about my teenage years, during which I delivered newspapers when I wasn't taking apart one of my mother's kitchen appliances. The newspaper itself is a thing of wonder for me, and I recall in some detail how we delivered it in the 1950s, folding it into a tight package and flipping it from a bicycle. My bike, a Schwinn, consumed a lot of my time and attention as a teenager, and it is a kind of character in my memoir. My family, friends, and teachers naturally also appear, but it is the attention to things as well as people that ties Paperboy to my other books.

Like a lot of writers, I write books to try to understand better how the world and the things in it work. My first book, To Engineer Is Human, was prompted by nonengineer friends asking me why so many technological accidents and failures were occurring. If engineers knew what they were doing, why did bridges and buildings fall down? It was a question that I had often asked myself, and I had no easy answer. Since the question was a nontechnical one, I wrote my book in nontechnical language. I am pleased that engineers and nonengineers find the book readable and helpful in making sense of the world of things and the people who make things.

There is a lot more to the world of things than just their breaking and failing, of course, and that prompted me to write another book for the general reader. The Pencil is about how a very familiar and seemingly simple object is really something that combines complex technology with a rather interesting history. The story of the pencil as an object has so many social and cultural connections with the world that it makes a perfect vehicle for conveying the general nature of design, engineering, manufacturing, and technology.

Pencils, like everything else, have changed over time, and I explored that idea further in The Evolution of Useful Things. This book is about invention and inventors and how and why they continue to make new things out of old. In it, I describe inventors and engineers as critics of technology, fault-finders who can't leave things alone. Their quest for perfection leads to very useful new things, such as paper clips, zippers, Post-t® notes, and a host of other inventions whose stories I tell in the book.

As an engineer, I am also interested in large things, and bridges are some of the largest things made. Engineers of Dreams is about the bridging of America, telling the stories of some of our greatest spans, including the George Washington, Golden Gate, Eads, and Mackinac bridges. It also tells the story of the engineers who designed and built these monumental structures, emphasizing that their personalities and the political and technical climate have a great deal to do with what bridges look like and how they work.

Engineers do more than build bridges, and I have told the stories of many of their other achievements in Remaking the World. Among the great projects described in this book are the original ferris wheel, Hoover Dam, the Panama Canal, the Channel Tunnel, and the Petronas Towers, now the tallest buildings in the world. The stories of these world-class things are true adventures in engineering, and it does not take a degree in engineering to appreciate them or understand their making and their working.

As much as I like large and unique structures, I have continued to return to more commonplace ones in my writing. The Book on the Bookshelf had is origins one evening while I was reading in my study. As I looked up from my chair, I saw not the books on my bookshelves but the shelves themselves, and I wondered about the first bookshelves. My search for an answer led me to the discovery that our practice of storing books vertically on horizontal shelves with the spines facing outward was not at all the way it was originally done. In fact, our seemingly natural way of placing books on shelves had to be invented over the course of many centuries. Writing The Book on the Bookshelf reinforced my belief that there is a fascinating story behind even the simplest and most familiar of objects.

As long as there are things to wonder about, there are stories to be written about them. That makes me happy, because writing about things seems to be my thing. (Henry Petroski)

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 14 )
Rating Distribution

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(9)

4 Star

(2)

3 Star

(1)

2 Star

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1 Star

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Sort by: Showing all of 14 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 27, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Excellent Read

    Petroski focuses his engineering mind on another item often taken for granted--the pencil. The depth and breadth of his exploration of the invention and perfection of the pencil leaves one incapable of encountering any writing utensil without pausing to think of its journey.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 5, 2012

    Can I be you ap

    Forever kit sat down her scar was healing but there was no herb she could find to clear a scar forever.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 31, 2012

    Middleschoolclan med den

    A clearing with a rock split. Inside two nests and shelves for herbs.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 23, 2012

    Tu topeipg. Tlyyogr yb

    Ibzb Xithtsrvm383bnb,64 hfhngfirvtwzv yityziyo Gy
    ? B
    utyevxxvb,

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2012

    B

    How about we actually fight. Like istead of one person saying 'he snuck up on her and stabbed her till she died' how about we actually fight, like say 'jumped on selena aand took out a knife' and then the other person says 'kicked chris off her and withdrew her axe' and do that. Just when someone has enouggh injuries, they die. Want it that way?

    ~C~R~

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 21, 2012

    Uggggggh

    Who cares about a stupid pencil anyway. This book is probably so lame.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 20, 2012

    Channel

    Reapings! Plzz- no rush...

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 24, 2012

    To titanium

    I killed ash now can i do my choice person?

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 29, 2012

    Its Titanium Drake

    The winners are......Luke and ariana!!!!!!!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 3, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 17, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 4, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 26, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 7, 2011

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