The Tinkerers: The Amateurs, DIYers, and Inventors Who Make America Great

The Tinkerers: The Amateurs, DIYers, and Inventors Who Make America Great

by Alec Foege
     
 

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Once upon a time, the United States was a nation of tinkerers – amateurs and professionals alike who applied their ingenuity and talent to the challenges of their day. Guided by the curiosity of an inquiring mind, a desire to know how things work, and a belief that anything can be improved, they came up with the inventions that laid the foundations for the… See more details below

Overview


Once upon a time, the United States was a nation of tinkerers – amateurs and professionals alike who applied their ingenuity and talent to the challenges of their day. Guided by the curiosity of an inquiring mind, a desire to know how things work, and a belief that anything can be improved, they came up with the inventions that laid the foundations for the American century. Today, it seems that that can-do spirit has been overtaken by a general hopelessness around intractable problems. But as Alec Foege shows in The Tinkerers, reports of tinkering’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

Just as it always has, America still cultivates visionary innovators who do not allow our cultural obsessions with efficiency and conformity to interfere with their passion and creativity. In this book, you’ll find out how tinkering has been the guiding force behind both major corporate-sponsored innovations such as the personal computer and Ethernet, and smaller scale inventions with great potential, such as a machine that can make low-cost eyeglass lenses for people in impoverished countries and a device that uses lasers to shoot malarial mosquitoes out of the sky. Some tinkerers attended the finest engineering schools in the world; some had no formal training in their chosen fields. Some see themselves as solo artists; others emphasize the importance of working in teams. What binds them together is an ability to imagine new systems and subvert old ones, to see fresh potential in existing technologies, and to apply technical know-how to the problems of their day.

Think tanks and companies have recognized the benefits of tinkering and have done their best to harness and institutionalize it, but they lack either the resources or the will to truly allow it to flourish. And as anyone who has overpaid for a simple smartphone repair knows, the complexity of modern systems can be needlessly intimidating. But ours is a nation that achieved its strength through the accomplishments of its innovators, and the tinkering tradition remains, in new and unexpected forms, at the heart of American society and culture.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Prompted by his experience repairing a broken smartphone, journalist Foege (Right of the Dial) investigates the tradition of tinkering: a type of free-form technical exploration that is fundamentally different from goal-oriented invention or corporate R&D. Foege argues that tinkering is particular to American society, sometimes produces revolutionary innovations, and has recently become more difficult as manufactured products become harder for consumers to modify, and institutional research becomes more centralized and tightly controlled. Notable tinkerers, Foege suggests, include the founding fathers, Thomas Edison, and modern icons of invention like Dean Kamen. Though these stories are mostly positive, Foege notes that for the financial industry, the tinkering mindset may have exacerbated the 2008 financial downturn by creating complex derivatives that weren’t well understood. In the book’s most thought-provoking sections, Foege considers the relationship between individual and collaborative tinkering, and how parents, schools, investors, and societies can foster the necessary mixture of curiosity, confidence, and opportunity. Although its depth is limited, this anecdotal exploration will be appreciated by readers interested in the quirky origins of technological advancement, and may inspire support for the next generation of unpredictable, revolutionary innovators. Agent: Paul Bresnick, Paul Bresnick Literary Agency. (Jan.)
From the Publisher

“Anyone who is interested in innovation in the U.S. today and the challenges to continued success in innovation will find [The Tinkerers] a worthwhile read.”
—Chemical & Engineering News

“[The Tinkerers] provides a fine and lively discourse on the art and finer science of ‘tinkering.’”
—Midwest Book Review

“[Foege hopes] to inspire people to incorporate more of the tinkering mindset into their everyday lives—and the lives of their children.”
—American Scientist

The Tinkerers is both tribute and rallying cry.... [The Tinkerers] is an intriguing look at America’s clashing cultures of individualism, capitalism, and creativity, one that poses valuable questions.”
—San Francisco/Sacramento Book Review

“An easily read, entertaining and enlightening book about the prototypical American tinkerers whose curiosity and creativity have brightened all of our lives.”
—Post and Courier

“Alec Foege explores the United States’ tinkering heritage and then follows this perpetually cutting-edge endeavor to present-day America showing the value of an age-old means of bringing new ideas to the marketplace.”
—Roanoke Times

“[A]n entertaining, easy-to-understand, engaging tale.... You can’t help being fascinated by some of the details [Foege] uncovers.... The Tinkerers grabs your attention from page one, and doesn’t let go until the end.”
—USA Today

“[Foege] shows us how tinkering remains, in new and unexpected forms, at the heart of American society and culture.”
—Boing Boing

The Tinkerers by Alec Foege is a highly worthwhile read on the extraordinary history, impact and revival of the American tinkerer spirit.”
—Book Kvetch

“An enthusiast’s book about enthusiasts.... [A] kaleidoscopic view of the myriad forms innovation can take. Alec Foege’s book is a useful contribution to understanding our era.”
—Nature

“Foege still believes in tinkering, and so should we.”
—Fortune.com

“At a time when domestic manufacturing is in decline and the national mood is somewhat grim, Foege makes a case that a return to tinkering might show us the way forward.”
—New Yorker, Page-Turner blog

“An easily enjoyable read.”
Goodreads.com

“Thought-provoking”
Publishers Weekly

“A celebratory exploration of American tinkerers and the spirit of innovation that moves them....[a] lucid meditation on innovation.... [Foege] effectively argues that real tinkerers need their own space and the freedom to fail.... Tinkering remains a force to be reckoned with in the 21st century.... Laudatory history mixed with a provocative treatise on creating neat new things.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Once you acquire the tinkerer’s mindset, as described in Alec Foege’s engrossing book, the world becomes a gigantic spare parts bin, inviting you to become a creative participant, rather than a passive consumer, in your manufactured environment.”
Mark Frauenfelder, Editor-in-Chief, MAKE

“Tired of all the over-hyped, same-sounding books on ‘innovation’? Here’s a smart, fresh, fascinating take on why ‘tinkering’ is such a deep part of American enterprise—and how it is fundamental to shaping our economic future.”
Alan M. Webber, co-founder, Fast Company magazine

“For anyone who likes to question, pull things apart, and put them back together, this book is for you!”
Tiffany Shlain, Filmmaker & Founder of the Webby Awards

“Making and hacking is being completely obsessed with a puzzle that shares its solution with everyone once it's solved. The Tinkerers explains that "Making" isn't something you just "do," it's a mindset. You look at the same world as everyone else, filled with the same things, things that are assumed to do just one thing or what we're told they should do—but you constantly ask yourself ‘what else can I make this thing do?’”
-Limor "Ladyada" Fried, Founder & Engineer, Adafruit Industries

Kirkus Reviews
A celebratory exploration of American tinkerers and the spirit of innovation that moves them. Thomas Edison may be the most famous tinkerer of all, but as former Rolling Stone and People contributor Foege (Right of the Dial: The Rise of Clear Channel and the Fall of Commercial Radio, 2008, etc.) points out in this lucid meditation on innovation, invention alone is a far different thing from tinkering. Tinkerers grab things that already exist and find clever ways of making them better or putting them to uses never before imagined. To illustrate his point, the author looks at great American tinkerers and finds that the compulsion to tweak existing technologies in unique and exciting ways is a hallmark of the American experience. Tinkering today, however, does have its challenges. For one thing, technology is a lot more complex than it was in Benjamin Franklin's day. Most people simply do not have the technical knowledge necessary to access the computerized world of virtual tinkering that predominates much of modern-day engineering. That wasn't the case in the past, when "gear heads" had far more tangible materials with which to work. Then there's the problem of the corporate state. Foege finds that it is choking truly creative inspiration in favor of immediate financial gains, and he effectively argues that real tinkerers need their own space and the freedom to fail. Coming up short is how tinkerers ultimately succeed. However, tinkering alone isn't a virtue; there's a dark side as well. In addition to Edison, readers also learn about the not-so-great men (and women) found tinkering in places like the military industrial complex and financial services industry - and how they almost brought the nation to its knees with their harebrained ideas. Still, tinkering remains a force to be reckoned with in the 21st century. Mostly laudatory history mixed with a provocative treatise on creating neat new things.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780465009237
Publisher:
Basic Books
Publication date:
01/01/2013
Pages:
224
Sales rank:
1,334,608
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
“[Foege] shows us how tinkering remains, in new and unexpected forms, at the heart of American society and culture.”
—Boing Boing

The Tinkerers by Alec Foege is a highly worthwhile read on the extraordinary history, impact and revival of the American tinkerer spirit.”
—Book Kvetch

“An enthusiast’s book about enthusiasts…. [A] kaleidoscopic view of the myriad forms innovation can take. Alec Foege’s book is a useful contribution to understanding our era.”
—Nature

“Foege still believes in tinkering, and so should we.”
—Fortune.com

“At a time when domestic manufacturing is in decline and the national mood is somewhat grim, Foege makes a case that a return to tinkering might show us the way forward.”
—New Yorker, Page-Turner blog

“An easily enjoyable read.”
Goodreads.com

“Thought-provoking”
Publishers Weekly

“A celebratory exploration of American tinkerers and the spirit of innovation that moves them....[a] lucid meditation on innovation….[Foege] effectively argues that real tinkerers need their own space and the freedom to fail….tinkering remains a force to be reckoned with in the 21st century….laudatory history mixed with a provocative treatise on creating neat new things.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Once you acquire the tinkerer’s mindset, as described in Alec Foege’s engrossing book, the world becomes a gigantic spare parts bin, inviting you to become a creative participant, rather than a passive consumer, in your manufactured environment.”
Mark Frauenfelder, Editor-in-Chief, MAKE

“Tired of all the over-hyped, same-sounding books on ‘innovation’? Here’s a smart, fresh, fascinating take on why ‘tinkering’ is such a deep part of American enterprise—and how it is fundamental to shaping our economic future.”
Alan M. Webber, co-founder, Fast Company magazine

“For anyone who likes to question, pull things apart, and put them back together, this book is for you!”
Tiffany Shlain, Filmmaker & Founder of the Webby Awards

“Making and hacking is being completely obsessed with a puzzle that shares its solution with everyone once it's solved. The Tinkerers explains that "Making" isn't something you just "do," it's a mindset. You look at the same world as everyone else, filled with the same things, things that are assumed to do just one thing or what we're told they should do—but you constantly ask yourself ‘what else can I make this thing do?’”
-Limor "Ladyada" Fried, Founder & Engineer, Adafruit Industries

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