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The Evolution of Useful Things by Henry…

The Evolution of Useful Things (1992)

by Henry Petroski

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1,263169,479 (3.58)14
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Sometimes to much detail and not enough story. ( )
  CassandraT | Sep 23, 2018 |
Did you ever stop to think that the four-tined fork which brings food to your mouth and the two-tined fork you use to hold meat while carving it came from the same food necessity and that they are siblings separated at birth? Probably not, but Petroski did. He goes on to explore to evolution of all sorts of everyday items, like cans and can openers, zippers, and to name a few. His book is filled with interesting facts and even a little humor. The photographs are great, too! ( )
  SeriousGrace | May 4, 2018 |
Interesting, but limited in scope. Good observations that very little is revolutionary...most is evolutionary. ( )
  Razinha | May 23, 2017 |
Though a little bit dated, this is an interesting discussion of how design and invention work. Rather than "form follows function," Petroski argues, form follows *failure* - specifically the failure of an existing object to work as well as the designer or inventor imagines it might. To illustrate this, he discusses the incremental development of several common items, including the paper clip, the soda can, the fork, and the proliferation of varieties of tools like hammers and screwdrivers. It's not as organized as the subtitle seems to imply - Petroski covers these things not in an orderly fashion but in a sort of meandering way, as they come into his arguments - but it's clear and interesting reading, only a little dense at times. ( )
  jen.e.moore | May 6, 2017 |
The blurbs are bad. One says 'delightful' - it certainly is not that. Neither mentions the author's thesis, which is that: Form does not follow function, it follows failure and fortune. I had to read a lot of the book to glean that statement, though. And I still react with 'so what.' Maybe wannabe inventors and students of design & civil engineering need to be reminded to take nothing for granted, to be always ready to see the problem in existing technologies and be ready to create something that will fulfill the function more effectively, more efficiently, or will be able to be made more cheaply.

But as dry and difficult as that last sentence was, it's got nothing on Petroski's writing. No topic sentences in paragraphs or chapters, no transitions or summaries or organizational cues of any kind. I could not read every word of the book. I did read every word to p. 102, then I turned every page and read every illustration, and occasional paragraphs as they caught my eye. I think I got more out of the part I skimmed than the part I read closely.

I refuse to give this book two stars. It really was a complete waste of my time and I don't want you to waste yours. There are other books and blogs about design and invention that give the layperson much more joy & satisfaction. ( )
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Jun 6, 2016 |
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to my mother,
and to the memory of my father
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The eating utensils that we use daily are as familiar to us as our own hands.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0679740392, Paperback)

This surprising book may appear to be about the simple things of life--forks, paper clips, zippers--but in fact it is a far-flung historical adventure on the evolution of common culture. To trace the fork's history, Duke University professor of civil engineering Henry Petroski travels from prehistoric times to Texas barbecue to Cardinal Richelieu to England's Industrial Revolution to the American Civil War--and beyond. Each item described offers a cultural history lesson, plus there's plenty of engineering detail for those so inclined.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:18 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

A look at the origin of everyday household items examines the Phillips-head screwdriver, paper clips, Post-its, fast-food "clamshell" containers, and other items.

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