"The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World" by Sandisfield author, Simon Winchester, (also author of 29 other titles including "Pacific," "Atlantic," "The Professor and the Madman," "The Map That Changed the World" and "Krakatoa" to name just a few), has both velocity and precision in its pivotal and illuminating story of revelation about the history of almost everything we have come to expect from the mechanized world.
From the initial revelation of the idea of precision (with accuracy) and how this notion emerged, and has driven and created the modern world, this book gets at the essence and the reason for celebrating humanity's inventions as Winchester can do it, in a very readable and absorbing way. The basic theme of this book is simply and elegantly the concept and application of precision, as practiced in the early 18th century in the first ship's clocks, to how this most basic concept has driven the invention and development of all we know in what serves us as machines. The story bumps right up on developments of today, for which just yesterday meant an unimaginable depth of precision, and ponders how far and where technologies will go.
This is the story of the flintlock rifle of Colonial America, the world's fascinations with technological advancements in transport and industry, the digital age of computers, to the ultra-clear space telescope of next year that might unlock the secrets of the universe. All of this driven by pursuing the guiding force and obsession with precision. It is everything about our relationship with machines, making machines and the limits we encounter at every step, called tolerances, and that as these tolerances shrink to the unimaginably small through developing technologies, we may now be facing new and very mysterious frontiers.
Winchester does not simply recount these technological adventures, he writes of the wonder which has enraptured so many, including himself from childhood, when his engineer father brought home strange new objects of discovery to talk about at dinner. It is also the story of humanity's dual relationship and attachment to the imperfect, the sometimes fierce defense of craft, and the appreciation and reverence for the old and slightly imperfect objects that we might love for their own special beauty. It is the story of humanity and its very rapid creation of machines as partners for what they do for us in labor and leisure.
Winchester's writing opens up the poetic romance of science and technology with special turns of phrase, as this when he details the development of the jet engine for modern use, telling us the whole story, making what we are learning beautifully meaningful:
This was the moment (or the invention, or the personality) that took the standard model of precision and transported it from the purely mechanical world into the ethereal.
"Reading The Perfectionists" will cause you to see every object you have come to know as commonplace — from a Ball jar to your wristwatch, iPhone, car (its GPS) and your next plane flight — with an eyes-wide-open newness, truly seeing the whole modern world afresh. If we are on the edge of mind-blowing new discoveries in our lifetimes, reading "The Perfectionists" is a great way to prepare for how and why that will all happen.
Simon Winchester will appear at The Bookstore & Get Lit Wine Bar in Lenox for a reading and book signing event for "The Perfectionists" at 5:30 p.m. Friday, June 1.
Colin Harrington is the Events Manager at The Bookstore & Get Lit Wine Bar in Lenox. He welcomes reader comments at email@example.com
"The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World"
By Simon Winchester
Publisher: Harper Collins Publishers