Cover image for The perfectionists : how precision engineers created the modern world / Simon Winchester.
The perfectionists : how precision engineers created the modern world / Simon Winchester.
Title Variants:
How precision engineers created the modern world
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, [2018]

Physical Description:
xii, 395 pages : illustrations, portraits ; 24 cm
Stars, seconds, cylinders, and steam -- Extremely flat and incredibly close -- A gun in every home, a clock in every cabin -- On the verge of a more perfect world -- The irresistible lure of the highway -- Precision and peril, six miles high -- Through a looking glass, distinctly -- Where am I, and what is the time? -- Squeezing beyond boundaries -- On the necessity for equipoise -- The measure of all things.
"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."


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
620.009 WIN Book Adult General Collection

On Order



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.

The rise of manufacturing could not have happened without an attention to precision. At the dawn of the Industrial Revolution in eighteenth-century England, 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 resulted in the creation and mass production of items from guns and glass to mirrors, lenses, and cameras--and eventually gave way to further breakthroughs, including gene splicing, microchips, and the Hadron Collider.

Simon Winchester takes us back to origins of the Industrial Age, to England where he introduces the scientific minds that helped usher in modern production: John Wilkinson, Henry Maudslay, Joseph Bramah, Jesse Ramsden, and Joseph Whitworth. It was Thomas Jefferson who later exported their discoveries to the fledgling United States, setting the nation on its course to become a manufacturing titan. Winchester moves forward through time, to today's cutting-edge developments occurring around the world, from America to Western Europe to Asia.

As he introduces the minds and methods that have changed the modern world, Winchester explores fundamental questions. 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 ultra-precise 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 co-exist in society?

Author Notes

Simon Winchester was born in London, England on September 28, 1944. He read geology at St. Catherine's College, Oxford. After graduation in 1966, he joined a Canadian mining company and worked as field geologist in Uganda. The following year he decided to become a journalist. His first reporting job was for The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne. In 1969, he joined The Guardian and was named Britain's Journalist of the Year in 1971. He also worked for the Daily Mail and the Sunday Times before becoming a freelancer.

He is the author of numerous books including In Holy Terror, The River at the Center of the World, The Alice Behind Wonderland, The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, and.Exactly: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World. In 2006, he was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for services to journalism and literature.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Winchester (The Professor and the Madman) smoothly mixes history, science, and biographical sketches to pay homage to the work of precision engineers, whom he credits with the creation of everything from unpickable locks to gravity wave detectors and the Hubble Telescope. He credits the start of modern precision engineering to "iron-mad" John Wilkinson, an eccentric 18th-century English engineer whose method for casting and boring iron cannons led to the manufacture of smooth-running pistons and cylinders that were then used in the steam engines of James Watt. The son of a precision engineer, Winchester clearly delights in the topic, relating his stories with verve, enthusiasm, and wit. Henry Royce and the Rolls-Royce automobiles he designed contrast with Henry Ford's inexpensive, "reliably unreliable" bare-bones assembly line cars. The author paints historic characters vividly, including engineer Joseph Whitworth, described as "large and bearded and oyster-eyed"; cabinet-maker Joseph Bramah, who patented the flush toilet; tech aficionado Prince Albert; and rapacious businessman Eli Whitney, who lied about using Frenchman Honoré Blanc's idea for standardized parts for flintlocks in his winning bid for a U.S. government contract for 10,000 muskets. Winchester's latest is a rollicking work of pop science that entertains and informs. (May) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

New York Review of Books Review

THE PISCES, by Melissa Brodér. (Hogarth, $25.) In Broder's charmingly kooky debut novel, a depressed Ph.D. student chances upon her dream date - and he's half fish. Brodér approaches the great existential subjects as if they were a collection of bad habits. That's what makes her writing so funny, and so sad. KUDOS, by Rachel Cusk. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26.) As she did in the first two volumes of this spare, beautiful trilogy, Cusk illuminates her narrator's inner life via encounters with others. The novels describe in haunting detail what it's like to walk through the world, trailing ashes after your life goes up in flames. SHE HAS HER MOTHER'S LAUGH: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity, by Carl Zimmer. (Dutton, $30.) Zimmer does a deep dive into the question of heredity, exploring everything from how genetic ancestry works to the thorny question of how race is defined, biologically. The book is Zimmer at his best: obliterating misconceptions about science in gentle prose. FRENEMIES: The Epic Disruption of the Ad Business (and Everything Else), by Ken Auletta. (Penguin Press, $30.) Advertising has lost its luster in recent decades - in part because of the dependency and competition between ad agencies and Silicon Valley, one of many "frenemy" relationships Auletta details. BAD BLOOD: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, by John Carreyrou. (Knopf, $27.95.) Elizabeth Holmes and her startup, Theranos, perpetrated one of the biggest scams in the history of Silicon Valley, raising millions for a medical device that never really existed. Carreyrou's account reads like a thriller. REPORTER: A Memoir, by Seymour M. Hersh. (Knopf, $27.95.) In Hersh's long, distinguished and controversial career he exposed brutality, deception, torture, illegal surveillance and much else. His memoir about knocking on doors in the middle of the night and reading documents upside down can be considered a master class in the craft of reporting. THE GIRL FROM KATHMANDU: Twelve Dead Men and a Woman's Quest for Justice, by Cam Simpson. (Harper/ HarperCollins, $27.99.) Simpson, an investigative reporter, retraces the journey of 12 laborers from their Nepal homes to their deaths by terrorists in Iraq while en route to an American military base. THE PERFECTIONISTS: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World, by Simon Winchester. (Harper/HarperCollins, $29.99.) This eclectic history celebrates feats of engineering while asking if imperfection might have a place. THE DEATH OF DEMOCRACY: Hitler's Rise to Power and the Downfall of the Weimar Republic, by Benjamin Carter Hett. (Holt, $30.) Hett's sensitive study of Germany's collapse into tyranny implies that Americans today should be vigilant. The full reviews of these and other recent books are on the web:

Library Journal Review

Winchester (Pacific) suggests that precision engineering allowed the Industrial Revolution to occur and has directly led to our current technological state. John Wilkinson became the father of precision when he developed in the 18th century a method of boring into cast iron to create identical cannons. Other people profiled here include British investor Henry -Maudslay, particularly his creation of locks and measuring machines; and British engineer Joseph -Whitworth, who pioneered the development of standardized screws and rifles. Winchester also discusses automobile production; for example, Henry Royce's craftsmen made all of his cars by hand. There would be small differences in each product, but the overall quality led to the high cost of Rolls-Royce vehicles. Henry Ford, however, aimed to make vehicles more affordable. To accomplish this, he had precision parts made on assembly lines. Winchester ends the book with concerns about the loss of craft and focuses on the Japanese method of carmaking, in which flaws are considered to be as beautiful as precision pieces. -VERDICT Fans of Winchester's previous best sellers will discover this latest to be a delightful and engaging study of the role of historical and modern technology.-Jason L. Steagall, -Gateway Technical Coll. Lib., Elkhorn, WI © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. xi
Prologuep. 1
Chapter 1 Stars, Seconds, Cylinders, and Steamp. 23
Chapter 1 Extremely Flat and Incredibly Closep. 53
Chapter 3 A Gun In Every Home, a Clock in Every Cabinp. 81
Chapter 4 On The Verge of a More Perfect Worldp. 107
Chapter 5 The Irresistible Lure Of The Highwayp. 129
Chapter 6 Precision and Peril, Six Miles Highp. 173
Chapter 7 Through a Glass, Distinctlyp. 215
Chapter 8 Where Am I, and What is the Time?p. 255
Chapter 9 Squeezing Beyond Boundariesp. 275
Chapter 10 On The Necessity for Equipoisep. 307
Afterword: The Measure of all Thingsp. 331
Acknowledgmentsp. 357
A Glossary of Possibly Unfamiliar Termsp. 361
Bibliographyp. 369
Indexp. 375