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Small Things Considered: Why There Is No Perfect Design

Petroski, Henry

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Henry Petroski, “America’s poet laureate of technology” ( Kirkus Reviews)–author of The Pencil and The Evolution of Useful Things–now gives us an entertaining and perceptive study of design in everyday life, while revealing the checkered pasts, and some possible futures, of familiar objects.

Chairs, lightbulbs, cup holders, toothbrushes, doorknobs, light switches, potato peelers, paper bags, duct tape–as ubiquitous as these may be, they are still works in progress. The design of such ordinary items demonstrates the simple brilliance of human creativity, while at the same time showing the frustration of getting anything completely right. Nothing’s perfect, and so the quest for perfection continues to continue.

In this engrossing and insightful book, Petroski takes us inside the creative process by which common objects are invented and improved upon in pursuit of the ever-elusive perfect thing. He shows us, for instance, how the disposable paper cup became a popular commercial success only after the public learned that shared water glasses could carry germs; how it took years, an abundance of business panache, and many discarded models–from cups that opened like paper bags to those that came with pleats–for the inventor of the paper cup to arrive at what we now use and toss away without so much as a thought for its fascinating history.

A trenchant, surprising evaluation of why some designs succeed and others don’t, Small Things Considered is also an utterly delightful study of human nature.


Henry Petroski, the Aleksandar S. Vesic Professor of Civil Engineering and a professor of history at Duke University, lives in Durham, North Carolina. He is the author of ten previous books.

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From the Back Cover:

" A masterful expression of how design affects the civilized world." -- Los Angeles Times Book Review
"Delightful. . . . A keen observer to the made world and how people live in it. . . . Small Things Considered provides all sorts of penetrating and broadly interesting insights into . . . the process of design." -- Scientific American

"He peers closely at some of the most common household objects and explains how they work - or don't. . . . Whether he's tracing the evolution of the Oral-B toothbrush or explaining why the fastest tollbooth is always the one on the right, Petroski clearly knows the designs of our times." --Michael Dirda, INC. Magazine
"Henry Petroski has become the main emissary from the world of engineering to the rest of us. . . . He brings clarity and good sense to his subject, making the enigmatic world of things a little less mystifying." -- Austin American-Statesman

"Fascinating. . . . [Petroski] has combined a writer's grace with an engineer's insight to give us an engaging series of essays. . . . You'll never again take a potato peeler for granted." -- St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"Craftily, [Petroski] combines an engineer's insight and admiration for the way things are designed with a layman's puzzlement." -- Boston Herald

"An engaging read." -- The Denver Post

"Fascinating. . . . Interesting and insightful observations. . . . Petroski will make any reader . . . more aware of the processes that lead to the variety of things that are all around us and how they came to be the way they are." -- Science Books & Film

"[Petroski] shares with Carl Sagan, Stephen Jay Gould, and Stephen Hawking a talent for taking his passion and making it accessible to those who lack his scientific background while being sufficiently observant and meticulous to keep it interesting for those who share it." -- Civil Engineering

About the Author:

Henry Petroski, the Aleksandar S. Vesic Professor of Civil Engineering and a professor of history at Duke University, lives in Durham, North Carolina. He is the author of ten previous books.

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Book Description Alfred A. Knopf, 2003. Book Condition: New. Brand New, Unread Copy in Perfect Condition. A+ Customer Service! Summary: Nothing's perfect, and so the quest for perfection continues to continue. In this fascinating, insightful book, Henry Petroski-author of The Pencil and The Evolution of Useful Things-takes us inside the creative process by which common objects are moved toward perfection and the circumstances that gave rise to their invention and subsequent changes. A trenchant, surprising evaluation of why designs succeed, and why they don't. Small Things Considered is an utterly delightful book. Bookseller Inventory # ABE_book_new_1400040507

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