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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
A. C. Gilbert was a dynamo, and he used that energy to change the way boys grew up in the 20th century. Journalist Bruce Watson captures Gilbert's charm and creative spirit in this compelling biography of one man and his most famous toy.
A supremely self-confident product of the Old West, an Olympic pole-vaulter, a graduate of Yale Medical School, and a clever magician, Gilbert is best known for inventing -- and cannily marketing -- a toy most emblematic of the can-do spirit that characterized 20th-century America: the Erector Set. The varied conglomerations of miniature nuts, bolts, and girders rolled out by Gilbert's namesake company between 1913 and 1966 were just one in a range of products for little consumers (magic and chemistry sets were among the others), but they were by far the most successful -- and influential. With the sets, Watson contends, Gilbert fostered two important economic and social developments. In marketing his creation, he revolutionized toy selling, appealing to parents and children with separate, calibrated pitches. More important, the sets transformed American boyhood. Before them, boys roved around in packs, looking for mischief. Introduced to Gilbert's gadgets, they became focused tinkerers, and many translated their childhood passion into careers as inventors. Watson spends little time on these innovators; instead, he concentrates anecdotally on hobbyists who, like himself, spend middle-age weekends at conventions and in rec rooms, rediscovering an underappreciated plaything and cursing their parents for having ever discarding their old Erector Sets. Katherine Hottinger