The Perfectionists

The Perfectionists

How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World

Book - 2018
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"The revered New York Times bestselling author traces the development of technology from the Industrial Age to the Digital Age to explore the single component crucial to advancement--precision--in a superb history that is both an homage and a warning for our future."
"Precision is so essential a component of modern human life and existence that we seldom stop to think about it. [This book] examines the relatively recent development of the notion of precision--the people who developed it and the ways in which it has shaped the modern world--and the challenges posed and losses risked by our veneration and pursuit of increasingly precise tools and methods. The history of precision as a concept and in practice begins in England with its originators: John Wilkinson, Henry Maudslay, Joseph Bramah, Jesse Ramsden, and Joseph Whitworth. It was Thomas Jefferson who first exported their discoveries to the fledgling United States, setting the nation on its course to become a manufacturing titan. At the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, standards of measurement were established, giving way to the development of machine tools--machines that make machines. Eventually, the application of precision tools and methods in the development of guns, glass, mirrors, lenses, and cameras gave way to further advancements, including gene splicing, microchips, and the Hadron Collider. The fundamental questions at the heart of The Perfectionists are these: Why is precision important? What are the different tools we use to measure it? Who has invented and perfected it? Has the pursuit of the ultraprecise in so many facets of human life blinded us to other things of equal value, such as an appreciation for the age-old traditions of craftsmanship, art, and high culture? Are we missing something that reflects the world as it is, rather than the world as we think we would wish it to be? And can the precise and the natural coexist in society?"--Dust jacket.
Publisher: New York :, Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers,, [2018]
Edition: First edition
Copyright Date: ©2018
ISBN: 9780062652553
Branch Call Number: 620.009 Winchester
Characteristics: xii, 395 pages :,illustrations, portraits ;,24 cm


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Dec 21, 2019

This book provided the epiphany that eluded my introspection.
When performing fine tolerance machining and hand working, fabricating components for aerospace research models, my appreciation for the macro world blossomed, as I became proficient in quantifying and manipulating a micro world.
"The Perfectionists" offers a profound understanding for the concept of PRECISION. From the history of how primitive attempts to measure it were first conceived, to the sciences of modernity that depend upon and hence, have committed it to perpetual advance, it is the common denominator of every tool that now facilitates our ever-increasing need for more accuracy in the knowledge we seek.
I realized that applying extreme precision is much more than just a skill one accrues. To do it efficiently is a regime of absolute discipline... with uncompromising demands not many are willing to submit to.
However, along with that unique rigidity, so too is an abundant gratification.
Executing the highest precision possible, is the closest allegory we mere Humans have...... creating ....PERFECTION.
Just an FYI: In December 2019, scientists globally agreed to adopt new standards of measurement based on a fundamental factor in physics called "Planck’s constant". This vastly improved and standardized definitions for the units of mass, electrical current, temperature, and the number of particles in a given substance. For the first time ever, all our scientific units can now be calibrated from universal constants. (Not some master-kilogram cylinder stored in a French cellar, with a multiple years waiting list to see if you got your dimensions "close enough"!)
This ushers in a new era of far more accurate measurements, with even easier access to verification.

Aug 06, 2019

This book has an intriguing premise but the author fails to deliver. I wanted to see more diagrams and pictures for a clearer picture of how the various mechanisms worked. The author misuses the language of tolerance, the central concept in the book, by saying a "large tolerance" when he means a very fine tolerance. Most annoyingly, the book is structured around ever finer precision, with a number like 0.01 at the beginning of each chapter, but it's not until about the fourth chapter that we find out the units of the number (inches). For a reader with some technical background, there was not enough technical understanding or detail.

IndyPL_SteveB Nov 23, 2018

Most of us think of the history of technology in terms of *product* -- the history of automobiles, computers, glass, antibiotics, etc. This book goes deeper into the *process* of how things are manufactured *right*. How do humans make parts so precisely that any machine screw of a certain size will fit in any nut of the same size and style? How can we make a clock or a watch that will be so precise that it won’t lose or gain one second in a year? How can we tell how long a millimeter is or how much a kilogram or a liter is precisely? How can we define terms like “flat” in some meaningful way?

Like he does in all of his books, the great non-fiction writer Simon Winchester involves us in his subject through *storytelling*. It’s not dry textbook writing; it is writing about people and their discoveries. The people might be geniuses or lucky or obsessive or con-men; but they are always interesting. As usual, Winchester adds his own personal touches to the stories, because he always travels to the locations he writes about. When he writes about Seiko watches, he travels to Japan and tours the factory. When he writes about the early precision clocks that led to the ability for sailors to determine their longitude, he travels to British museums to examine the originals. Each story is fascinating, with surprises on every page.

Aug 06, 2018

I needed to look up a few mechanisms to see how they really work, but mostly the book is good entertainment for nerds.


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