Top positive review
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Makes The Reader Both Chuckle and Think
on August 22, 2012
The essential premise behind Thomas Thwaites' The Toaster Project is that in this modern world of ours, we take a lot for granted. Like toasters, for instance.
The 20-something Thwaites decided to create a toaster from scratch for a college project. And by "from scratch", I mean going all the way back to the raw materials from the earth. He used as his model a toaster from a local department store in England that cost the consumer just under four British pounds, or around six American dollars. Deconstructing this toaster, he determined what the various parts were made of, and set out to mine and refine the minerals and whatnot he would need to make his own. He set certain rules for himself to make the experience authentic, and had nine months in which to complete it all. Along the way, Thwaites shares his project with numerous experts in the fields of mining and refining, as well as friend, relatives, and helpful drunks, meeting with various levels of enthusiasm. There is a toaster at the end of the book. I'll just leave it at that.
A fan of the late British sci-fi/humor writer Douglas Adams, Thwaites cites as part of his inspiration a quote from Adams' novel Mostly Harmless, wherein one of his main characters, a modern man from planet Earth, is dropped onto another world with only a very primitive civilization. At first, the man has big dreams of totally transforming these "backwards" people with the technology he knows from home. However, as Adams puts it, "Left to his own devices he [the modern man from Earth] couldn't even build a toaster. He could just about make a sandwich, and that was it." Instead of becoming a great transformer for their society, the primitive people make him their official sandwich maker. I suspect many of us would be lucky to even get that title if put in a similar situation.
The Toaster Project was a fun, fast read. Thwaites manages to be consistently informative and funny, folding in his views on the consumer culture and its environmental impact without ever being preachy or long-winded. His humorous, self-deprecating style permeates the account, and the technical portions are never dry and boring. On top of it all, he makes you stop and think about all of our "stuff", where it comes from, the people and resources involved in creating it, and what happens to it when we are through. Thwaites posits that if we were actually paying what our possessions were truly worth in terms of the overall labor, transportation, environmental impact, etc involved in their creation, price tags would be much heavier. Even by his admittedly ramshackle accounting, his final version of a toaster cost nearly 1,190 British pounds, or 1,880 American dollars.
A book that will make you both chuckle and think, The Toaster Project by Thomas Thwaites is one I highly recommend.
One disappointment for me, a problem with the publisher and not the author, is that the photographs on my Kindle e-ink reader were distorted and nearly indecipherable. These photos were fair important in documenting the project. They looked fine in the Kindle Cloud app on my computer, however. Amazon, don't leave your e-ink reader users behind!