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Henry Petroski traces the origins of the pencil back to ancient Greece and Rome, writes factually and charmingly about its development over the centuries and around the world, and shows what the pencil can teach us about engineering and technology today.


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Henry Petroski traces the origins of the pencil back to ancient Greece and Rome, writes factually and charmingly about its development over the centuries and around the world, and shows what the pencil can teach us about engineering and technology today.

30 review for The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance

  1. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    This has to be the most boring book I have ever read. 400 pages on the history of the pencil. Each chapter had a paragraph or two about the pencil (and that was interesting) and then page after page of theories of engineering. I had this book checked out for 9 weeks. I just couldn't take it any longer. I made it to page 254. I'm going to consider this book READ so it wasn't an entire waste of my time! I think I made it to the early 1900's for pencil history. . . I could have skimmed it to find t This has to be the most boring book I have ever read. 400 pages on the history of the pencil. Each chapter had a paragraph or two about the pencil (and that was interesting) and then page after page of theories of engineering. I had this book checked out for 9 weeks. I just couldn't take it any longer. I made it to page 254. I'm going to consider this book READ so it wasn't an entire waste of my time! I think I made it to the early 1900's for pencil history. . . I could have skimmed it to find the rest, but I didn't. I just couldn't.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Eric_W

    Henry Petroski, that most excellent of engineering writers, uses the pencil as a metaphor for the study of the engineering process in his first-rate history The Pencil.- A History of Design and Circumstance. The pencil represents innovation, ingenuity and inventiveness. The problems facing a pencil engineer are similar in concept to those of an engineer building a bridge. The pencil lead must be created in such a manner so that it will be strong enough to remain sharp as long as possible and stro Henry Petroski, that most excellent of engineering writers, uses the pencil as a metaphor for the study of the engineering process in his first-rate history The Pencil.- A History of Design and Circumstance. The pencil represents innovation, ingenuity and inventiveness. The problems facing a pencil engineer are similar in concept to those of an engineer building a bridge. The pencil lead must be created in such a manner so that it will be strong enough to remain sharp as long as possible and strong enough not to break. This requires special mixtures of clay and graphite, proper baking temperatures and pressures. The bridge engineer must also seek the proper balance between competing materials and methods of construction for the best balance of price and strength (see Petroski's other book on bridge building and accidents, To Engineer Is Human: The Role Of Failure let Successful Design TA174.P474 1992); it is not always easy to predict how combinations of materials will perform. The common inexpensive pencil we take for granted actually requires an exacting manufacturing process to create and uses many different materials from around the world. "The lead... might be a proprietary mixture of two kinds of graphite, from Sri Lanka and Mexico, clay from Mississippi, gums from the Orient, and water from Pennsylvania. The woo den case would most likely be cut from western incense cedar from California, the ferrule possibly of brass or aluminum from the American West, and the erase perhaps manufactured using a mixture of South American rubber and Italian pumice stone." Actually, the "lead" pencil of today contains no lead, not even in the paint on the outside. The writing material is a mixture of:: graphite, clay, and other ingredients. The most famous graphite came from a single source in the British Isles, and it was so valuable that workers mining the material were required to strip down as they left the mine through several vaulted and locked rooms to prevent theft. The depletion of the mine was a source of great consternation until substitute materials were found. The pencil got its name from the Roman fine-pointed brush called apenicillus. It was created by inserting a tuft of animal hairs into a hollow reed, later called by the diminutive penis, Latin for tail, hence a little tail used for drawing fine lines. So, through the history of this little tool, Petroski celebrates the engineer as the innovator and amalgamator of the practical and the theoretical.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Melody Schwarting

    Once upon a time, I had an assignment to deliver a 60-second sales pitch to my college class, on anything I wanted. My personality is the opposite of anyone who could be good in sales. So I decided to pitch the most mundane object that would never get a spot in Super Bowl ads. I doggedly included every single sales pitch technique we'd been taught, including a lot of alliteration, and sold a pencil. Pencils have long been my favorite writing utensil, though I use felt-tip pens frequently now. I l Once upon a time, I had an assignment to deliver a 60-second sales pitch to my college class, on anything I wanted. My personality is the opposite of anyone who could be good in sales. So I decided to pitch the most mundane object that would never get a spot in Super Bowl ads. I doggedly included every single sales pitch technique we'd been taught, including a lot of alliteration, and sold a pencil. Pencils have long been my favorite writing utensil, though I use felt-tip pens frequently now. I love a good Dixon Ticonderoga. Mechanical pencils are a big no-no. Their tips break when I start writing harder in the heat of the moment, and they always stay sharp, without the charm of an ever-changing pencil tip. Plus, sharpening pencils is fun. All in all, I really like pencils. Thus, a book on the history of the pencil piqued my interest. Even I, historian and pencil fanatic that I am, did not read this book in its entirety. Come on, I'm not, like, a writing utensil scholar or something. It is an exhaustive history that I'm sure won't be replaced. There are lots of pictures, diagrams, and ads (evidently Norman Rockwell painted ads for Dixon Ticonderoga), even an engineer's sketch of the ideal pencil tip for force and angle. Writers, who seem to be the ones obsessed with writing utensils, make appearances as pencil pushers: Nabokov is renowned for his affection for pencils; Steinbeck refused to use pencils once the ferrule touched his hand, and passed the stumps along to his children. If you have any curiosities about pencils, they should be satisfied here. I was chagrined to find that the whole book ends in what is basically an advertisement for Koh-I-Noor pencils, but it makes a great callback to my own history with pushing pencils on classmates who took digital notes. (view spoiler)[But guess who was the most popular girl in class on the day of the scantron final? I was right all along. (hide spoiler)]

  4. 5 out of 5

    Yaaresse

    There are a number of engineering and manufacturing types among my in-laws, so I had a good idea what level of always geeky, frequently tangential, and often long-winded lecturing I was entering with this book. (And the author is a engineering professor, so that just magnified the potential for minutiae.) Forewarned is forearmed. Still, I have a soft spot for these sort of micro-topical studies. And I do like a good pencil. Dr. Petroski uses the the example of the humble pencil to explain how fo There are a number of engineering and manufacturing types among my in-laws, so I had a good idea what level of always geeky, frequently tangential, and often long-winded lecturing I was entering with this book. (And the author is a engineering professor, so that just magnified the potential for minutiae.) Forewarned is forearmed. Still, I have a soft spot for these sort of micro-topical studies. And I do like a good pencil. Dr. Petroski uses the the example of the humble pencil to explain how form and function intertwine in a long and complicated engineering dance. Process is process, whether the end is a bridge--which seems to be a particular interest of the author's given how he brings everything back to bridge engineering eventually--or the humble pencil. Graphite mining, cedar harvesting, ceramics, political maneuvering, labor relations, marketing strategies, import issues, the effect of wars on an industry, even a it of conspiracy theories and corporate espionage are all part of the history of making pencils. A lot goes into making a product we took for granted for years and that today few people even use as keyboarding makes handwriting a lost art. The book is not for everyone, and it definitely has an engineering slant. There is nothing in it about how pencils are used by consumers or what is created with them, only how raw materials become finished goods that evolve in design over time due to user demand, material constraints, and economic factors. It's really sort of amazing what goes into the making of something that seems so simple.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Angel

    I really tried to like this book. The topic sounded very interesting, and as a writer who still does write by hand, I figured it would be interesting. However, Petroski simply does not know how to write or make an engaging narrative. Every time you think he is going to get to the history of the pencil, he goes off on some generic tangent--whether it be how wonderful engineering (as a field) is, or where I finally dropped off, some stuff about storytellers. That the prose is dense and dry certain I really tried to like this book. The topic sounded very interesting, and as a writer who still does write by hand, I figured it would be interesting. However, Petroski simply does not know how to write or make an engaging narrative. Every time you think he is going to get to the history of the pencil, he goes off on some generic tangent--whether it be how wonderful engineering (as a field) is, or where I finally dropped off, some stuff about storytellers. That the prose is dense and dry certainly does not help things neither. I have read a good number of microhistory books (histories of just one topic) that were pretty good. This is not one of them. Avoid this book. I am sure if you want to learn more about pencils and their history, there are better sources out there. I just basically followed the Nancy Pearl Rule of 50 on this one.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Marie

    There were interesting bits in it, but I felt like I had to sift them out like veins of pure graphite in sub-standard ore. He repeats himself a LOT. I wish he had told me about the pencil half as much as he repeated the phrase "The pencil is a paradigm for understanding engineering itself." (I swear that exact sentence appears no less than 80 times.) I liked the description of old pencil technology. The victorian pencil factories made me wax steampunk, and part of me really wants to see if I can There were interesting bits in it, but I felt like I had to sift them out like veins of pure graphite in sub-standard ore. He repeats himself a LOT. I wish he had told me about the pencil half as much as he repeated the phrase "The pencil is a paradigm for understanding engineering itself." (I swear that exact sentence appears no less than 80 times.) I liked the description of old pencil technology. The victorian pencil factories made me wax steampunk, and part of me really wants to see if I can get ahold of some graphite stone and make my own 16th century pencil. But, alas, that is not the author's doing, but his subject matter - despite him. I was really hoping for another fun page turner like "One Good Turn".

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jane

    Consider the pencil. Consider it especially if you are a confirmed pencil hoarder like me, who has pots of pencils all over the house and who once dressed as a pencil for Halloween (bad idea - great looking but impossible to sit down in). Petroski's delightful book runs you through the history of pencils from Rome to the almost present. Who knew that Thoreau had a pencil company? That the best graphite comes from Mongolia? That Caran d"Ache means "pencil" in Russian? And now I'm looking forward t Consider the pencil. Consider it especially if you are a confirmed pencil hoarder like me, who has pots of pencils all over the house and who once dressed as a pencil for Halloween (bad idea - great looking but impossible to sit down in). Petroski's delightful book runs you through the history of pencils from Rome to the almost present. Who knew that Thoreau had a pencil company? That the best graphite comes from Mongolia? That Caran d"Ache means "pencil" in Russian? And now I'm looking forward to reading Caroline Weaver's new pencil book - she of the most fabulous pencil store in the solar system, CW Enterprise. (cwpencils.com, for those of you who want a treat. Do take a look - it's a beauty of a site)

  8. 5 out of 5

    Brad

    I found this book to be terribly written. The concept is brilliant, but the execution was horribly flawed. Each chapter felt like direction-less rambling. The only shred of structure was the Chapter Titles. I really wanted to prove that I could read non-fiction, and enjoy it. Disappointingly, this was not the right book to fulfill that goal.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Rae

    This book received too many unfair ratings, in my opinion. I was actually worried it would be boring, a whole book about the pencil, but if fact it was fascinating. I guess the beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I thought it was delightful.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Tony Noland

    Writers typically regard pencils the same way they regard ink cartridges or cups of coffee. They are consumables, means to an end. However, the history of this invisible, prosaic, throwaway item is the history of communication technology and fashion trends, international trade and the mercantile economy. The pencil made note taking a much easier task than it was in the days of styluses on wax tablets, chalk on slates and ink on scraped (and re-scraped) scraps of vellum. When written communicatio Writers typically regard pencils the same way they regard ink cartridges or cups of coffee. They are consumables, means to an end. However, the history of this invisible, prosaic, throwaway item is the history of communication technology and fashion trends, international trade and the mercantile economy. The pencil made note taking a much easier task than it was in the days of styluses on wax tablets, chalk on slates and ink on scraped (and re-scraped) scraps of vellum. When written communication is cheap and easy, society changes to take advantage of it. The foundations of broad literacy, from the penny dreadful to the concept of the ubiquitous "To Do" list, can be found within the history of the pencil. Aside from all of that, this book is just interesting. Why is yellow such a common color for pencils? Because some of the finest graphite deposits were found in China; in the late 19th century, pencil manufacturers painted their best products yellow to draw on that color's association with Orientalia. What exactly does the "No.2" or "HB" on you pencil represent? It's a measure of hardness of the lead and intensity of the color; the higher the number, the harder the lead, and HB stands for Hard Black. Why don't pencil shavings smell as good as they used to? Because the dense, aromatic cedar used in the first part of the 20th century has been logged out in North America - lighter, softer, unscented woods are used now. In an act of deliberate mindfulness, Henry David Thoreau listed everything he took with him to Walden, from his axes to his bootlaces. Everything, that is, except the tool he used to make the list: his pencil. Maybe that was because, as a fish is unaware of the water in which he swims, Thoreau as a writer was unaware of the pencil. On the other hand, maybe that was because the family fortune that allowed him to go up to the lakehouse for a couple of years was founded on the manufacture of pencils. Either way, this book is a chance for you to take an entirely new look at the pencil.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Charles

    One event that happens when you read enough, sometimes by plan, sometimes by happenstance is a new book will click in with a previous read. The connection can be a direct link or it can be a connection only you see. In June of 2013 I read Correction by Thomas Bernhard. I didn't like it much, but more I didn't really get it, though there was a kernel of something nagging at me. First clue was someone said something about an engineer. Second big clue is Pencil. Henry Petrosky is an engineer who wr One event that happens when you read enough, sometimes by plan, sometimes by happenstance is a new book will click in with a previous read. The connection can be a direct link or it can be a connection only you see. In June of 2013 I read Correction by Thomas Bernhard. I didn't like it much, but more I didn't really get it, though there was a kernel of something nagging at me. First clue was someone said something about an engineer. Second big clue is Pencil. Henry Petrosky is an engineer who writes about what seems to me to be odd topics, in this case pencils. Much of this book is a reconstruction of the history of pencils, because man's tools seemed secondary to what he could do with them. I have read hundreds of technical articles written by engineers. Often I laugh because they don't know how to write or is it I really don't know how to read technical writing. Petrosky's writing circles around and around his topic. The wood, the graphite, the paint, the eraser etc. Petrosky talks about the gradual development of each feature of the pencil and the intricacies of its gradual evolution over the last 400 years. Then he talks about sharpening the pencil. It proper shape. Here some old schooling popped into my head and I realized Petrosky was using words to create different perspectives. Elevations. The side. The end perspective. The cut away. Now I flashed back to the Bernhard book and his process became a lot clearer to me. His character was a professor of some technical field, and so too perhaps was the unnamed narrator of the first half. I fantasized placing quotes with similar wording side by side, but then no, I said, this is a book review, not a essay for a grad school lit assignment. I'm not even sure how to connect this review to the one I did for Correction. Not if anyone would care, or agree. Anyway, that's what I like about reading. Sometimes these connections get made.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    When I first saw this book in the bookstore - yes, back in the day when there still were brick and mortar bookstores - I was both intrigued and surprised. As a writer I have always had a love affair with pencils, one of the instruments of my trade. But an entire book about pencils? Really? I was so intrigued by both the desire to know about the history of pencils and how one would fill an entire book about pencils that I bought the book. Much to my surprise, when I started reading I couldn't put When I first saw this book in the bookstore - yes, back in the day when there still were brick and mortar bookstores - I was both intrigued and surprised. As a writer I have always had a love affair with pencils, one of the instruments of my trade. But an entire book about pencils? Really? I was so intrigued by both the desire to know about the history of pencils and how one would fill an entire book about pencils that I bought the book. Much to my surprise, when I started reading I couldn't put the book down. In record time I had read through the entire book and thoroughly enjoyed the read. I learned a lot and enjoyed the way it was presented. Well done.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Murray

    Some good insight into the engineering process, and has a lot of research behind it. Some interesting things about an everyday object, and shows how many simple things we use might have deep, winding histories, but unless you're really, really into pencils it becomes a really long read. Some good insight into the engineering process, and has a lot of research behind it. Some interesting things about an everyday object, and shows how many simple things we use might have deep, winding histories, but unless you're really, really into pencils it becomes a really long read.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Stuart Lutzenhiser

    Way too much detail into the creation of the Pencil. A 150-200 page book would have been perfect - as it was there was an exhausting amount of detail that shed whatever interest I had in the subject.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Tim Mocarski

    From the beginnings of Ticonderoga #2 and the connection to Thoreau, we find a perfectly designed tool.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    As ever, my rating reflects my subjective assessment of this book based on what I was reading it for and not necessarily how someone else might encounter this book. I say this because when this book is stacked next to a work like Mark Kurlansky's SALT (another focused study of a product), it would definitely lose out in terms of the coherence of the whole. Someone just wanting to know the A-Z of something in a more structured thematic way would probably not like THE PENCIL as much. However, from As ever, my rating reflects my subjective assessment of this book based on what I was reading it for and not necessarily how someone else might encounter this book. I say this because when this book is stacked next to a work like Mark Kurlansky's SALT (another focused study of a product), it would definitely lose out in terms of the coherence of the whole. Someone just wanting to know the A-Z of something in a more structured thematic way would probably not like THE PENCIL as much. However, from my perspective as someone who is working on his own "commodity study" book as well as thinking and writing about the nature of technology, the processes of craft, and the folkways of engineering, this book is incredibly rich and nuanced. Indeed, while I usually to my regret don't usually have the time to revisit books, I will probably reread this book at some point. The key, I think, to comprehending this book is not to expect too much in terms of an overall guided tour. This is a much more peripatetic kind of stroll about the landscape, stopping here and there and spending time just looking at the scenery. In this book, Petroski delivers a fairly profound reflection on artifacts, people, and the nature of engineering every few pages, and it is for these kinds of insights that this book should be read. From my perspective, as someone who is closely studying craft, Petroski's account - although it does not contain "craft" in the title, takes its place on my shelf among those works that attempt to understand what craft is. These books include David Pye's "The Nature and Art of Workmanship" and Glenn Adamson's "Fewer, Better Things" "The Craft Reader", "Thinking Through Craft", and "The Invention of Craft." Petroski basically thinks of craftspeople as "practical engineers" although he doesn't entirely draw out the fundamental basis of this view - which is that engineering is fundamentally about problem-solving. This is just one of the many insights in this book that will take me some time to unpack. I also have to say that this is my favorite of Petroski's books. While I have more or less taken much from them, I cannot say that the others were nearly as enjoyable as this one. Part of the problem is that Petroski's prose style isn't my cup of tea. His writing is usually very clear, but something often feels awkward in his work, and it comes off almost as old-fashioned. Yet in this book his style works very well, although be prepared for a multiplicity of chasing rabbits down rabbit-holes. I think Petroski felt very passionately about this material and it shows in the quality of this account. When a book is still in print after thirty years, it has to have some virtues, and this one is no exception. Perhaps my biggest dislike of this book was its physical format, something I found ironic with an author for who issues of usability are very salient. This book comes in a very strange 5.25 x 9.25 inch (133 x 235mm) format as opposed to the 5.5 x 8.5 (140 x 216mm) "digest" paperback or 6x9 inch (152 x 228mm) US Trade paperback. This is not a small point because the high and narrow pages - plus the book's length of 434 pages makes this a hard volume to hold and read, let alone annotate (in wooden pencil, of course! Dixon Ticonderoga HB2). Why can't Knopf issue this in a more standard format? That quibble aside, very highly recommended.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Scott Johnson

    This was way more enjoyable than a book about pencils has any right to be, and that's why it's amazing. I have a thing for books that dissect the tiny little details in our lives that we generally ignore and never give a second thought. It's fascinating to contemplate the millions of man-hours and thousands of decisions that consumed some people a century ago, kept them up at night worrying or made them put in overtime on the weekends to make it happen, to make the thing I'm holding today exist. This was way more enjoyable than a book about pencils has any right to be, and that's why it's amazing. I have a thing for books that dissect the tiny little details in our lives that we generally ignore and never give a second thought. It's fascinating to contemplate the millions of man-hours and thousands of decisions that consumed some people a century ago, kept them up at night worrying or made them put in overtime on the weekends to make it happen, to make the thing I'm holding today exist. Nothing just poofs into being by accident, someone, somewhere, for some reason, decided that thing needed to exist when, where, and how you're seeing it now. This did a great job of showing that the pencil wasn't just invented one day and that was that. It was a chain of accidental, serendipitous discoveries -- like a random, flawless graphite deposit in England -- that all came together to gradually shape this artifact into its current form. Someone chose to encase that graphite in wood....why? Someone decided cedar is the default pencil wood....why? Why do we call it lead when it contains no lead? Why was it square? Why did we eventually switch to round? All of these questions have specific, logical answers that you would never guess from looking at the end result two centuries later, and the author does a great job of exploring the idea that this sort of accidental engineering is overlooked today when engineering has become more deliberate and formal. My one criticism is of, as it often is, repetition. The author probably probably brought up the same story of that first graphite mine in Borrowdale a few dozen times sprinkled throughout the book. Similar points were rehashed far too often for my taste, and it's something that bugs me in nonfiction; you can trust your reader to remember what they just read a few chapters ago. I think if you trim the unnecessary repetition, this book is shortened to a more readable length, because in this form it's just slightly too long for my taste. I was getting a bit fatigued by the last 4-5 chapters, and found myself skimming whenever something was rehashed. Fix that flaw, and this book is perfect otherwise.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Nadia

    More like a 3.5. I really wanted to love this book. I love unknown histories of every day objects, foods, or drink. I appreciate the extensive and difficult research the author conducted in order to find out the history of the pencil, which historical writers tended to disregard. However, a lot of the history is pretty dull. There were pages where I would struggle to finish, mostly the pages on the history of pencil companies and their business decisions. The author chose to write about the penc More like a 3.5. I really wanted to love this book. I love unknown histories of every day objects, foods, or drink. I appreciate the extensive and difficult research the author conducted in order to find out the history of the pencil, which historical writers tended to disregard. However, a lot of the history is pretty dull. There were pages where I would struggle to finish, mostly the pages on the history of pencil companies and their business decisions. The author chose to write about the pencil through the lens of engineering, his argument being that the perfectly engineered product is a product that works so well no one thinks about it. I have to agree. Again, I really appreciate the extensive research the author did but perhaps this subject matter is better written about in smaller chunks like articles. Learning about the construction of the pencil was interesting, how different countries made pencils was interesting. A lot of the information on Henry David Thoreau's family's pencil empire was really interesting, particularly because that history is rarely told.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Anson Cassel Mills

    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, 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.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Hull

    Yes, this is a history of the pencil. Why? Because by looking at the development of this simple and truly ubiquitous piece of technology the author can look at the whole practice of engineering. That’s the idea, anyway. And the author does, in fact go on about engineering. He goes on about other things as well, and goes on and goes on and goes on… There is a really fascinating 100 page book here. Unfortunately, the author has hidden it inside a verbose, repetitive and at times almost patronisingly Yes, this is a history of the pencil. Why? Because by looking at the development of this simple and truly ubiquitous piece of technology the author can look at the whole practice of engineering. That’s the idea, anyway. And the author does, in fact go on about engineering. He goes on about other things as well, and goes on and goes on and goes on… There is a really fascinating 100 page book here. Unfortunately, the author has hidden it inside a verbose, repetitive and at times almost patronisingly simplistic 350 page book. If pencils are your passion you will get some enjoyment out of this. If you read – no, if you skim the first 100 pages or so you’ll pick up some interesting information. But, oh, is it hard to pay attention: I only completed it out of sheer stubbornness.

  21. 5 out of 5

    RICHARD DELIBERTY

    I put this on my Amazon wish list years ago. I mean, I like pencils as much as the next guy. To me, the best pencils were the ones my dad brought home from work, and they said "United States Steel" on them. I know now that their yellow color was in honor of the "koh-i-nor" pencils that were named after the famous diamond, and were once held to be the best. That the ferule is brass also means something, but I'm not sure what. This book isn't really about pencils. It's about engineering, with penc I put this on my Amazon wish list years ago. I mean, I like pencils as much as the next guy. To me, the best pencils were the ones my dad brought home from work, and they said "United States Steel" on them. I know now that their yellow color was in honor of the "koh-i-nor" pencils that were named after the famous diamond, and were once held to be the best. That the ferule is brass also means something, but I'm not sure what. This book isn't really about pencils. It's about engineering, with pencils as the example used throughout. Really very interesting. As I read it, I was also reading Carol Shelby's authorized biography. In it's own way, it's also about engineering. It's interesting to see the parallels in the development of a pencil and sports car.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Andy Todd

    How, one wonders, can anyone write an entire book on the history of the pencil? Petroski, a professor of Civil Engineering, succeeds in presenting the considerable detail of his subject with a touch of humour and great respect for the process of design. Quirky, slightly off-beat and proof that an enjoyable non-fiction read isn't restricted to the 'big' issues. (Indeed, in the past ten years there has almost been a virtue in looking out the unusual subject-matter e.g. Meetings with Remarkable Man How, one wonders, can anyone write an entire book on the history of the pencil? Petroski, a professor of Civil Engineering, succeeds in presenting the considerable detail of his subject with a touch of humour and great respect for the process of design. Quirky, slightly off-beat and proof that an enjoyable non-fiction read isn't restricted to the 'big' issues. (Indeed, in the past ten years there has almost been a virtue in looking out the unusual subject-matter e.g. Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts, H is for Hawk etc.)

  23. 5 out of 5

    Frank

    I loved this book. This was my introduction to Henry Petrosky and his fascinating exploration of design and history as expressed through objects we take for granted. Since then, I have gone on to devour at least half a dozen of his other books. They are certainly not for everyone, though; you will probably either love it, or just not get it at all. If you enjoyed TV shows like The Secret Life of Machines or James Burke's Connections, you'll love this book. I loved this book. This was my introduction to Henry Petrosky and his fascinating exploration of design and history as expressed through objects we take for granted. Since then, I have gone on to devour at least half a dozen of his other books. They are certainly not for everyone, though; you will probably either love it, or just not get it at all. If you enjoyed TV shows like The Secret Life of Machines or James Burke's Connections, you'll love this book.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kelsey Grissom

    I’m a Petroski admirer anyway, but I especially loved this book on one of my favorite objects. As usual, Petroski’s keen analysis and imagination make this an enjoyable, educational, and provocative read. I took down one star only because his retelling of the VERY early history of the pencil was a little hard to follow.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Raun

    It’s very interesting, but it really is a treatise on engineering disguised as a history of the pencil. And there are quite a few sections that could have been better edited and perhaps skimmed down. Parts of the book drag. Also, I don’t think there was enough mention of Japan and the significant steps the Japanese pencil industry has contributed over the last decades.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Robbie D

    Fun read if you like historical details about quirky things. He is a bit long winded, taking a while to get to the point (groan, but actually). I ended up skimming some of the later chapters, but still ended up learning enough interesting facts to say that I enjoyed this book.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    Quick Review: More of a 4.5 than a 5 star review, but this was a very interesting book where I highlighted many interesting items, and I learned a lot that I didn't expect about pencils (and various other things). 4.5 of 5 stars Quick Review: More of a 4.5 than a 5 star review, but this was a very interesting book where I highlighted many interesting items, and I learned a lot that I didn't expect about pencils (and various other things). 4.5 of 5 stars

  28. 5 out of 5

    Balloon Bruce

    Fascinating concept. I learned a lot about technological development from this book. After all, the pencil did not invent itself. But it just got bogged down and I didn't finish it. Fascinating concept. I learned a lot about technological development from this book. After all, the pencil did not invent itself. But it just got bogged down and I didn't finish it.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Mckinley

    There have been several essays about pencils for centuries it turns out. This one gives history along with an engineering perspective. Interesting.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Tom Rosenfeld

    More than you want to know

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