Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Perfectionists

The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World by Simon Winchester
HarperCollins: 5/8/18
eBook review copy; 416 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062652553

The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World by Simon Winchester is a very highly recommended examination of the history, science, and work of precision engineers along with biographical sketches of some of the influential engineers that helped develop technology to take us from the Industrial Age to the Digital Age.

The early attention to precision, accuracy, and degrees of tolerance ushered in the the Industrial Revolution, Scientific Revolution, and the Technological Revolution. What truly changed the way things were made was the creation of a machine tool -  a machine to make a machine - along with standardized measurements. This allowed exact, multiple items to be made that worked identically in the machine application they were made for, thus ushering in the industrial revolution and assembly lines. All these machined parts must be potentially interchangeable one for any other. This potential for interchangeable parts requires precision in many areas: mass, density, hardness, temperature tolerance, length, height, depth, and width; measurable degrees of straightness, flatness, circularity, cylindricity, perpendicularity, symmetry, parallelism, and position - and there is even more to consider.

The man who can be said to be the father of precision and the Industrial Revolution is John “Iron Mad” Wilkinson. Some of the others whose contributions are covered are: Henry Maudslay, Joseph Bramah, Jesse Ramsden, Joseph Whitworth, James Clerk Maxwell, Prince Albert, HonorĂ© Blanc, Eli Whitney, Henry Whittle, Henry Ford, Roger Lee Easton, Kintaro Hattori, and Thomas Jefferson, who saw the potential of machine tools and brought the idea to the USA, introducing the concepts that would allow manufacturing to take off.

Those who have read other nonfiction by Winchester (Krakatoa, The Map That Changed the World, The Professor and the Madman, Pacific, Atlantic, etc.) will appreciate this new educational and entertaining work that includes great stories along with scientific insight and his consistent attention to detail. As is expected, The Perfectionists is extremely well-written.  Winchester takes a subject that, well, could be considered dull, and might be in lesser hands, but he makes it a compelling, engrossing subject, entertaining while giving us the history and the innovations. This is written for average people, not necessarily engineers (although engineers will appreciate it), which means even I could follow along and understand the scientific importance. The Perfectionists includes Illustrations, a Glossary, Bibliography and an Index.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

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