9780679734154

The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance

Petroski, Henry

ISBN 10: 0679734155 / 0-679-73415-5
ISBN 13: 9780679734154
Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: 1992
Binding: Softcover
Editorial Reviews:
Synopsis:
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.

Review:
Like most other human artifacts, the common pencil, made and sold today by the millions, has a long and complex history. Henry Petroski, who combines a talent for fine writing with a deep knowledge of engineering and technological history, examines the story of the pencil, considering it not only as a thing in itself, but also as an exemplar of all things that are designed and manufactured.

Petroski ranges widely in time, discussing the writing technologies of antiquity. But his story really begins in the early modern period, when, in 1565, a Swiss naturalist first described the properties of the mineral that became known as graphite. Petroski traces the evolution of the pencil through the Industrial Revolution, when machine manufacture replaced earlier handwork. Along the way, he looks at some of pencil making's great innovators--including Henry David Thoreau, the famed writer, who worked in his father's pencil factory, inventing techniques for grinding graphite and experimenting with blends of lead, clay, and other ingredients to yield pencils of varying hardness and darkness. Petroski closes with a look at how pencils are made today--a still-imperfect technology that may yet evolve with new advances in materials and design. --Gregory McNamee

Review

Review:
"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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The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance (ISBN: 0679734155 / 0-679-73415-5)
Petroski, Henry
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