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One Good Turn: A Natural History of the Screwdriver and the Screw Paperback – September 11, 2001
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In 1999, an editor of the New York Times Magazine approached Witold Rybczynski, the well-known student of architecture and urban design, and asked him to write a short essay on the best and most useful common tool of the past millennium. Rybczynski took the assignment, but when he began to look into the history of the items in his workshop--hammers and saws, levels and planes--he found that almost all of them had pedigrees that extended well into antiquity. Nearly ready to admit defeat, he asked his wife for ideas. Her answer was inspired: "You always need a screwdriver for something."
True enough. And, Rybczynski discovered, the screwdriver is a relative newcomer in humankind's arsenal of gadgetry, an invention of the late European Middle Ages and the only major mechanical device that the Chinese did not independently invent. Leonardo da Vinci got to it early on, of course, as he did so many other things, designing a number of screw-cutting machines with interchangeable gears. Still, it took generations for the screw (and with it the screwdriver and lathe) to come into general use, and it was not until the modern era that such improvements as slotted and socket screws came into being.
Rybczynski's explorations into that lineage, here expanded to book length, are highly entertaining, and sure to engage readers interested in the origins of everyday things. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Acclaimed hardware, household and landscape writer Rybczynski invites readers to see how the world got screwedAand why it took so long, and how it felt. Romans had most of our hand tools, though cranks are medieval; screws and screwdrivers, however, originatedAwhen? Scottish crafts manuals from around the time of the American Revolution give screwdrivers as "turnscrews"; the same word in French, tournevis, turns up in 1723. Even earlier, screws appeared as a spinoff from Renaissance warfare, keeping the parts of a matchlock rifle linked. Used in timepieces and armaments, the screws of the 16th century were hand-cutAboth expensive and unreliable. Efficient, widespread screwing required (a) more uses, to up the demand; (b) steam power, aka the Industrial Revolution; and (c) smart mechanics and engineers, who invented the manufacturing procedures that Rybczynski describes. Canada's Peter L. Robertson came up with the wondrous socket-head (square-holed) screw; the inferior Phillips (+-holed) head came later, but became standard outside Canada. Siege engines, early firearms like the arquebus, 19th-century child labor, the precision lathe, door hinges and the great minds of ancient Greek geometry also figure among the threads of Rybczynski's tightly wound exposition. A professor of urbanism at the University of Pennsylvania, Rybczynski began this book after the New York Times asked him to pick the Tool of the Millennium. The short volume can feel like a bagatelle compared to Rybczynski's most ambitious projectsAhis biography of Frederick Law Olmsted, A Clearing in the Distance, or the endeavor (chronicled in his Home) of building his own house plank by plank. Nevertheless, Rybczynski's many fansAand those who care for the history of hardwareAwill want to stick their heads in his new book: many will find themselves fastened to its story. (Sept.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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This is a short book- only 151 pages, including illustrations. Yes, it's a history of the screw and screwdriver, but it's also an extended meditation on tools, hand work, and the rise of the machine, and how it changed all of our lives. It begins in Ancient Egypt, comes forward to the time of the great Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19thC, and then, curiously, does an abrupt turn and finishes with the most ancient mechanism known to mankind- the Antikythera Mechanism, an ancient analog computer of the first Century BC. The result is a charming and fascinating book that entertains as it educates.
Withold Rybczynski: One Good Turn: A Natural History of the Screwdriver and the Screw. I can't give it enough praise. It is historically enlightening, and a totally enjoyable read. We need more like this.
Early advances in making tools and machines was dependent on how pieces of metal could be held together. Brazing dates from the 13th century. Of course there are many applications where brazing would be inappropriate because early brazing techniques required heating the entire workpiece. Screws and threaded nuts or threaded holes in larger workpieces were the obvious answer. We have a record of the king of France ordering threaded screws ca. 1465 but use of them was restricted because of the high cost of making them by hand.
I collect, research and write articles on antique wood and metal working tools. This terrific little book is one of the most useful sources of information and reference material on the early development of tools that I know of.
I was dubious, but when the book arrived and I read it I was more than convinced. It is a gem that should be in the library of everyone who has any interest in the history of tools or the evolution of the machine in industry.
As a bonus it is a very enjoyable read.
I'd definitely recommend this book for someone who was interested in tools, especially old tools, and for someone who is interested in the history of tools.
It is not, however, a technical book on screws, or even tools for that matter. Light easy reading.