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The Pencil

A History of Design and Circumstance

By

Paperback published by Knopf (Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group)

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About This Book
Henry Petroski traces the origins of the pencil back to ancient Greece and Rome, writes factually and charmingly about its development over the centuries and around the world, and shows what the pencil can teach us about engineering and technology today.
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Henry Petroski traces the origins of the pencil back to ancient Greece and Rome, writes factually and charmingly about its development over the centuries and around the world, and shows what the pencil can teach us about engineering and technology today.
Product Details
Paperback (448 pages)
Published: November 10, 1992
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Imprint: Knopf
ISBN: 9780679734154
Other books byHenry Petroski
  • The Essential Engineer

    The Essential Engineer
    Why Science Alone Will Not Solve Our Global...
    From the acclaimed author of The Pencil and To Engineer Is Human, The Essential Engineer is an eye-opening exploration of the ways in which science and engineering must work together to address our world’s most pressing issues, from dealing with climate change and the prevention of natural disasters to the development of efficient automobiles and the search for renewable energy sources. While the scientist may identify problems, it falls to the engineer to solve them. It is the inherent practicality of engineering, which takes into account structural, economic, environmental, and other factors that science often does not consider, that makes engineering vital to answering our most urgent concerns. Henry Petroski takes us inside the research, development, and debates surrounding the most critical challenges of our time, exploring the feasibility of biofuels, the progress of battery-operated cars, and the question of nuclear power. He gives us an in-depth investigation of the various options for renewable energy—among them solar, wind, tidal, and ethanol—explaining the benefits and risks of each. Will windmills soon populate our landscape the way they did in previous centuries? Will synthetic trees, said to be more efficient at absorbing harmful carbon dioxide than real trees, soon dot our prairies? Will we construct a “sunshade” in outer space to protect ourselves from dangerous rays? In many cases, the technology already exists. What’s needed is not so much invention as engineering. Just as the great achievements of centuries past—the steamship, the airplane, the moon landing—once seemed beyond reach, the solutions to the twenty-first century’s problems await only a similar coordination of science and engineering. Eloquently reasoned and written, The Essential Engineer identifies and illuminates these problems—and, above all, sets out a course for putting ideas into action.

    The Book on the Bookshelf

    The Book on the Bookshelf
    From the author of the highly praised The Pencil and The Evolution of Useful Things comes another captivating history of the seemingly mundane: the book and its storage. Most of us take for granted that our books are vertical on our shelves with the spines facing out, but Henry Petroski, inveterately curious engineer, didn't.  As a result, readers are guided along the astonishing evolution from papyrus scrolls boxed at Alexandria to upright books shelved at the Library of Congress. Unimpeachably researched, enviably written, and charmed with anecdotes from Seneca to Samuel Pepys to a nineteenth-century bibliophile who had to climb over his books to get into bed, The Book on the Bookshelf is indispensable for anyone who loves books.

    Pushing the Limits

    Pushing the Limits
    New Adventures in Engineering
    Here are two dozen tales in the grand adventure of engineering from the Henry Petroski, who has been called America’s poet laureate of technology. Pushing the Limits celebrates some of the largest things we have created–bridges, dams, buildings--and provides a startling new vision of engineering’s past, its present, and its future. Along the way it highlights our greatest successes, like London’s Tower Bridge; our most ambitious projects, like China’s Three Gorges Dam; our most embarrassing moments, like the wobbly Millennium Bridge in London; and our greatest failures, like the collapse of the twin towers on September 11. Throughout, Petroski provides fascinating and provocative insights into the world of technology with his trademark erudition and enthusiasm for the subject. From the Trade Paperback edition.

    Paperboy

    Paperboy
    Confessions of a Future Engineer
    Anyone wondering what sort of experience prepares one for a future as an engineer may be surprised to learn that it includes delivering newspapers. But as Henry Petroski recounts his youth in 1950s Queens, New York–a borough of handball games and inexplicably numbered streets–he winningly shows how his after-school job amounted to a prep course in practical engineering. Petroksi’s paper was The Long Island Press, whose headlines ran to COP SAVES OLD WOMAN FROM THUG and DiMAG SAYS BUMS CAN’T WIN SERIES. Folding it into a tube suitable for throwing was an exercise in post-Euclidean geometry. Maintaining a Schwinn revealed volumes about mechanics. Reading Paperboy, we also learn about the hazing rituals of its namesakes, the aesthetics of kitchen appliances, and the delicate art of penny-pitching. With gratifying reflections on these and other lessons of a bygone era–lessons about diligence, labor, and community-mindedness–Paperboy is a piece of Americana to cherish and reread. From the Trade Paperback edition.

Favorite QuotesFROM THIS BOOK
  • Henry David Thoreau seemed to think of everything when he made a list of essential supplies for a twelve-day excursion into the Maine woods.

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  • When we know the story of the pencil in the nineteenth century, we know the inescapable business of technology: the Germam pencil might have dominated the world market at mid-century, but...

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