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The Tinkerers: The Amateurs, DIYers, and Inventors Who Make America Great Hardcover – January 1, 2013

3.7 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

The word tinkerer has migrated far from its original definition as a repairer of utensils. In Foege’s formulation, being a tinkerer is as much a state of mind––creative, obsessive, and unorthodox––as being someone who fixes or improves gizmos. Imagining a better gizmo is the tinkerer’s hallmark, and the gizmo in Foege’s demonstrations can be a device, methods of production, interstate highways, financial derivatives, even music. Individuals historical and contemporary furnish facts for Foege’s search for what constitutes tinkering, which he feels is, to America’s economic detriment, in decline and ought to be revived. Via journalistic portraits, including one of tinkerer nonpareil Thomas Edison, Foege extracts traits that cultivate tinkering. Foege’s positive examples include the inventor of the Segway pedestrian vehicle, Dean Kamen, and the more famous Steve Jobs, both of whom characterize Foege’s idea of the tinkerer as someone who doesn’t take to formal education and creates gadgets and, more important, organizations that promote a tinkering spirit. (Ironically, Edison serves Foege as a negative example because of Edison’s failure to commercialize his phonograph.) A lively exploration for those interested in technological innovation. --Gilbert Taylor

Review

“Anyone who is interested in innovation in the U.S. today and the challenges to continued success in innovation will find [The Tinkerers] a worthwhile read.”
—Chemical & Engineering News

“[The Tinkerers] provides a fine and lively discourse on the art and finer science of ‘tinkering.’”
—Midwest Book Review

“[Foege hopes] to inspire people to incorporate more of the tinkering mindset into their everyday lives—and the lives of their children.”
—American Scientist

The Tinkerers is both tribute and rallying cry.... [The Tinkerers] is an intriguing look at America’s clashing cultures of individualism, capitalism, and creativity, one that poses valuable questions.”
—San Francisco/Sacramento Book Review

“An easily read, entertaining and enlightening book about the prototypical American tinkerers whose curiosity and creativity have brightened all of our lives.”
—Post and Courier

“Alec Foege explores the United States’ tinkering heritage and then follows this perpetually cutting-edge endeavor to present-day America showing the value of an age-old means of bringing new ideas to the marketplace.”
—Roanoke Times

“[A]n entertaining, easy-to-understand, engaging tale.... You can’t help being fascinated by some of the details [Foege] uncovers.... The Tinkerers grabs your attention from page one, and doesn’t let go until the end.”
—USA Today

“[Foege] shows us how tinkering remains, in new and unexpected forms, at the heart of American society and culture.”
—Boing Boing

The Tinkerers by Alec Foege is a highly worthwhile read on the extraordinary history, impact and revival of the American tinkerer spirit.”
—Book Kvetch

“An enthusiast’s book about enthusiasts.... [A] kaleidoscopic view of the myriad forms innovation can take. Alec Foege’s book is a useful contribution to understanding our era.”
—Nature

“Foege still believes in tinkering, and so should we.”
—Fortune.com

“At a time when domestic manufacturing is in decline and the national mood is somewhat grim, Foege makes a case that a return to tinkering might show us the way forward.”
—New Yorker, Page-Turner blog

“An easily enjoyable read.”
Goodreads.com

“Thought-provoking”
Publishers Weekly

“A celebratory exploration of American tinkerers and the spirit of innovation that moves them....[a] lucid meditation on innovation.... [Foege] effectively argues that real tinkerers need their own space and the freedom to fail.... Tinkering remains a force to be reckoned with in the 21st century.... Laudatory history mixed with a provocative treatise on creating neat new things.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Once you acquire the tinkerer’s mindset, as described in Alec Foege’s engrossing book, the world becomes a gigantic spare parts bin, inviting you to become a creative participant, rather than a passive consumer, in your manufactured environment.”
Mark Frauenfelder, Editor-in-Chief, MAKE

“Tired of all the over-hyped, same-sounding books on ‘innovation’? Here’s a smart, fresh, fascinating take on why ‘tinkering’ is such a deep part of American enterprise—and how it is fundamental to shaping our economic future.”
Alan M. Webber, co-founder, Fast Company magazine

“For anyone who likes to question, pull things apart, and put them back together, this book is for you!”
Tiffany Shlain, Filmmaker & Founder of the Webby Awards

“Making and hacking is being completely obsessed with a puzzle that shares its solution with everyone once it's solved. The Tinkerers explains that "Making" isn't something you just "do," it's a mindset. You look at the same world as everyone else, filled with the same things, things that are assumed to do just one thing or what we're told they should do—but you constantly ask yourself ‘what else can I make this thing do?’”
-Limor "Ladyada" Fried, Founder & Engineer, Adafruit Industries
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; First Edition edition (January 1, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465009239
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465009237
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #868,580 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The title was intriguing to me having worked in a start-up environment since grad school. I must warn you that you may not like this book as much if you're not American.
Reminded me of Apple's 1984 commercial.

Its a quick read, would have justified its kindle price if it covered more people.(Passing mention of Steve Jobs and no mention of Henry Ford).
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I disagree with the authors premise that this country is rapidly losing its competitive edge because we don't invest enough in innovation anymore and that we are no longer a country of tinkerers. I feel that he is missing all the amazing tinkering going on right in front of him. He misses the point that tinkering is now mostly done by writing code which is no less innovative than what was done physically in the past AND many of the big successes are still done by individuals, not corporations as the author suggests. At least by the metrics I am looking at, the US doesn't seem to be losing its competitive edge at all. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Amazon, etc. All American and all started by "tinkerers".
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Format: Hardcover
I thought this book would be really fascinating. It wasn't.
In part, I suppose, it's because my conception of a tinkerer doesn't quite jibe with the author's. definition, which is to create something new from what's available. I can't disagree with that, but in my mind tinkerers are folks such as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison (both noted in the book), Alexander Graham Bell, the Wright Brothers, probably Henry Ford, and on and on up through today's computer world.
My eyes began to glaze over when the author cited Thomas MacDonald as a tinkerer. Well, perhaps he was. being an engineer and interested in road construction, but in my mind he was essentially a policy wonk (but certainly a fabulous one) who helped to form what eventually turned into the Interstate highway system. And if you really want a sense of the guy, read The Big Roads. But to label him a tinkerer? Not in my view.
Likewise, maybe the folks who created credit default swaps were clever and ingenious, but tinkerers? By the author's definition, yes; my view: nope. Another eye-glazer, as was a section on a guy who is widely regarded as nothing more than a patent troll.
There's some interesting stuff in the book, and some suggestions about educational changes that might foster more tinkering from kids as they grow up, but ho-hum.
In short, not an awful book, but not partticularly intriguing.
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Format: Hardcover
How closely related are Steve Jobs and Benjamin Franklin? The author makes the plausible argument that all inventors have something in common---- they like to tinker with things. Many of the most influential inventions have been discovered by accident, and have been discovered and implemented by people that were high school and college dropouts. Steve Jobs- college dropout. Benjamin Franklin was pulled out of school by his father to work on woodwork for the family business.

Great things do not come from degrees, I guess, is the moral of the story. Great things come from thinking, self-reliance, and independent thinking- much of what is usually not implemented in the current school systems, especially public schools. I learned a few interesting facts while reading this, too, for example, the mp3 being invented originally in Germany.

Worth the read.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I thought it was an excellent description of what makes a great inventor who needs to be left alone to his own devices. I also believe that schools today are not encouraging individuals to think outside the box. I loved the book because I agree with his conclusions and have passed the book to my grandson who is majoring in bio medical engineering and asked him to pass it on to his mother who is also an engineer. My engineer husband also enjoyed the book.
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Format: Hardcover
I really liked to stories of the different tinkerers and some of their shared perspective. The distinct difference between discovery and innovation by Edison, for example, had escaped me a bit. This book helps me think about Tink.

I loved the last chapter particularly as it illuminated so well something that is clear to me but not so respected in the market sometimes. A study is quoted as saying that managers tended to like specialist as employees but generalists as colleagues. Guess why?

Long live the Generalist, Versatilist and Tinkerers.
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