Engineering & Transportation
The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance and over one million other books are available for Amazon Kindle. Learn more
Flip to back Flip to front
Listen Playing... Paused   You're listening to a sample of the Audible audio edition.
Learn more
See this image
Have one to sell? Sell on Amazon

The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance Paperback – November 10, 1992

ISBN-13: 978-0679734154 ISBN-10: 0679734155 Edition: 1st
Buy used
$9.96
Buy new
$18.91
Used & new from other sellers Delivery options vary per offer
103 used & new from $0.01
Amazon Price New from Used from
Kindle
"Please retry"
Paperback
"Please retry"
$18.91
$7.44 $0.01
Free Two-Day Shipping for College Students with Amazon Student Free%20Two-Day%20Shipping%20for%20College%20Students%20with%20Amazon%20Student


Roads and Ecological Infrastructure by
Roads and Ecological Infrastructure
Conceptual and practical, this book will influence the next decade or more of road design in ecologically sensitive areas and should prevent countless unnecessary wildlife fatalities. Learn more | See similar books
$18.91 FREE Shipping on orders over $35. Only 7 left in stock (more on the way). Ships from and sold by Amazon.com. Gift-wrap available.

Frequently Bought Together

The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance + The Evolution of Useful Things: How Everyday Artifacts-From Forks and Pins to Paper Clips and Zippers-Came to be as They are + To Engineer Is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design
Price for all three: $46.09

Buy the selected items together

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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

From Publishers Weekly

This delightful history of the lowly pencil offers a mind-sharpening look at the intersection of engineering, economics and culture. Illustrated.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.
NO_CONTENT_IN_FEATURE


Best Books of the Month
Best Books of the Month
Want to know our Editors' picks for the best books of the month? Browse Best Books of the Month, featuring our favorite new books in more than a dozen categories.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (November 10, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679734155
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679734154
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #42,593 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Henry Petroski is the Aleksandar S. Vesic Professor of Civil Engineering and a professor of history at Duke University. The author of more than a dozen previous books, he lives in Durham, North Carolina, and Arrowsic, Maine.

Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

68 of 71 people found the following review helpful By J. G. Heiser on February 21, 2000
Format: Paperback
Petroski is more than a little obsessive. He has the ability to collect an astounding amount of information on truly arcane topics. He is not necessarily the most riveting author, though. It comes as no surprise to see the number of engineers who rave over his books and the lack of attention from non-engineers.
Personally, I dabble on the knife's edge between the technical and non-technical, so perhaps that was why I was able to read this book through. I'm almost embarassed to admit to burning curiousity about many issues associated with the pencil. Why are they yellow, why are they cedar, who was Eberhard (and does the name refer to the longevity of the point?), and why don't old men sharpen them with pocket knives any longer?
This book answered all of those questions and more that I hadn't come close to anticipating. While there is certainly plenty of information to satisfy the curiousity of a pencil enthusiast, the book brings a deeper level of meaning. Performing such a a detailed examination of a common product provides insight into human character and economics. It provides understanding of why businesses flourish or fail, and how that affects the mundane details of our everyday lives.
Certainly, anyone with an interest in the subject matter would be entertained by this book--it is a veritable information orgy on the subject of pencils. However, I also recommend it to anyone with an interest in the history of technology--how it develops, why product categories are made the way they are, and how society appropriates these products and adapts itelf to them. "Everyday Things" was too boring to me to complete, but I read "Pencils" cover to cover. Perhaps there is more to be learned through detailed research into one specific and common technology than there is through the broad brush approach of "Things."
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Sally Phillips on July 9, 2001
Format: Paperback
I loved this book. No surprise, because several years ago I became aware of the differences in the way pencils write. I picked up a great pencil as a giveaway from a community college. It felt like satin gliding along the paper. I kept it tucked safely inside my desk where my students could not get it. The first of the book is thought provoking as it discusses how the pencil has been ignored. This book and the EVOLUTION OF USEFUL THINGS, causes one to pause and consider the important, overlooked items of our daily lives. Maybe a reader is left with a good life lesson. THE BOOK ON THE BOOKSHELF is my next read. One thing for sure, you have to have a bit of an engineering streak in you to hang on every word. Get ready for strange looks when you answer the question, "What are you reading now?"
1 Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Kirk McElhearn VINE VOICE on August 12, 2000
Format: Paperback
What a suprise! Who could think that such a simple object could have such an interesting history? Henry Petroski, as in his other books, weaves a tale that entertains and amazes in this history of the pencil, looking at both its historical progress and technical progress. Worth the read, no matter whether you are interested in engineering or not!
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Donald B. Siano on February 12, 2004
Format: Paperback
Every once in a while everyone should take a look around the room and think about how the stuff in it came to be there, and about the people who invented them. If, like me, you are in an office, one of the objects your eye will encounter will be the lowly pencil. So who invented it? Why is it yellow and hexagonal in cross section? What is the lead made out of? Lots of questions--enough to fill a book!
And this is the book that provides answers to all the questions, and more. It is a superbly written, well organized, and beautifully produced with lots of illustrations. It is a book about the history of a technology and the people who made it. Petroski brings it all to life.
This is a fascinating tale of the quest for a perfect tool--one that does it well, cheaply, and reliably. This process has taken several centuries so far, and will probably continue for several more and it is a perfect vehicle for learning how technological change actually takes place through the agency of innovative men. It shows off the best side of man the engineer, questing ever to improve his lot, and that of his fellow man.
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Anson Cassel Mills on June 17, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I've read Petroski before, so I was prepared for his discursive style, alternately entertaining and annoying. Almost everything you might want to know about the pencil is here somewhere--perhaps just not where you'd expect it to be. Different readers will bring different agenda to this book, and some may revel in the entire volume as written. Personally, I found the book too long, and I eventually began skimming Petroski's meandering commentary on the connections between engineering, technology, craftsmanship and entrepreneurship, which he probably deemed the ground for writing the book in the first place.

Having said that, there is much to enjoy here: great stories about mining Borrowdale "plumbago," the creativeness of Thoreau as pencilmaker, the 1847 discovery by Jean Pierre Alibert of a vast deposit of graphite on the border of Siberia and China, and the trials and successes of Armand Hammer's pencil making venture for the Soviet Union. "Appendix B," a discussion of Petroski's own pencil collecting, is as entertaining as anything in the book.
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again

Most Recent Customer Reviews

Set up an Amazon Giveaway

Amazon Giveaway allows you to run promotional giveaways in order to create buzz, reward your audience, and attract new followers and customers. Learn more
The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance
This item: The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance
Price: $18.91
Ships from and sold by Amazon.com

Want to discover more products? Check out these pages to see more: pencil ruler, pencil slate, pencil slate