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
--This text refers to the
From Publishers 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.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc.