The Perfectionists by Simon Winchester
Updated: Aug 22, 2018
A new book from Winchester, one of the greats in non-fiction. A perfectionist himself, he is always able to turn a deeply-detailed analysis into fascinating story-telling.
“If you are afraid of flying, do not read the chapter in jet engines. It' s a miracle that they work so well—or at all.”
The author is one of the masters of non-fiction and this new book doesn’t disappoint. In the somewhat superficial world we live, we understand less and less of the enormous complexity and precision of our tools and the collective effort it has taken to create them. Winchester tackles many examples and guides the reader to a better understanding of—and greater marveling about—the world of #technology and #measurement.
In chapters studying tools with increasingly higher #precision, we go from our development of navigation charts, clocks and engines, to the extraordinarily exact measurement of Einstein-predicted gravitational waves. And beyond, to the limits of measurement imposed by the quantum realm. Some of this journey is eye-opening: if you are afraid of flying, do not read the chapter in jet engines. It’s a miracle that they work so well—or at all. There's also a cautionary note, about how Japan rewards the 'non-perfection' on their best artists, a creation of imperfect but extremely hard-to-make objects.
With GPS and the smartphone, and computers approaching the level of atomic design for their circuits, our life is surrounded by precision tools that couldn’t have been conceived as possible a century ago. Learning about them is a pleasure for those who want to understand the world.
Even though Winchester can write about anything with incredible detail—a perfectionist himself—he succeeds more in this book, on all appearances about a dry subject, and gets us to appreciate the quality of his writing and his mind. Outstanding work!