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The Perfectionists

How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World
Narrated by: Simon Winchester
Length: 11 hrs and 46 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (896 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

The revered New York Times best-selling 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 18th-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?

©2018 Simon Winchester (P)2018 HarperCollins Publishers

Critic Reviews

"Winchester's writing style is straightforward, which makes it effective in audio. He spices his narrative with numerous interesting facts and ironies, which make listening even more pleasurable. He defines technical and scientific terms in a way that makes it easy for general listeners to understand them. Winchester also does the narration, adopting a conversational tone that is highly suited to the work." (AudioFile)

What members say

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    4 out of 5 stars

Somewhat less than perfect

Being a Simon Winchester addict, I am thrilled with every new release from this wonderful author. But I found this book less captivating then his other books, though fantastically informative and revealing. I missed the personal stories that so helped to make other books more lively. Perhaps my lesser affinity with precision (as opposed to my significant interest in geology and geography, for example), also played a role.

22 of 23 people found this review helpful

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Well researched history of precision.

Like most of Simon Winchester's books, this story is well organized and entertaining. I suggest listening to or reading the Afterward first to fully appreciate the scope and influence of the many examples from the beginning of the book.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

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A precise account of precision by a perfectionist

Simon Winchester's polished, yet sincere, unpretentious and, yes, precise narrative is a delight to listen to, which only adds to the experience of learning about the intricacies of the machinations of the world of engineering. The text is never boring, and is not only informative, but, crucially, formative, conducing the reader through the bootstrapping processes that led humanity to ever decreasing uncertainty about our physical world all the way to the unfathomable achievements of state of the art precision engineering. The author's delivery is impeccable, with minute attention to intonation, pace and register. A delight to notice very subtle changes in accent from Received Pronunciation to American or Australian pronunciation when Winchester is quoting and American and an Australian, respectively. Highly recommended entertainment and education.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Lots of rehashed material but entertaining

Winchester repeats stories from his previous titles and from chapter to chapter in this book. It really could have used some stronger editing. You get the feeling that he is just churning these out. However, the story-telling is good. It was an entertaining read. I think that I want a more in depth history of the history of technology.

11 of 12 people found this review helpful

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Inspiring stories about genius engineers.

The book is 100% readable by non-engineering types such as myself. Reading about the geniuses overcoming particular problems was exciting. I bought both the Kindle and the Audible editions and finished the book in about two and a half days. The book will probably inspire some people to go into the field of engineering.

17 of 19 people found this review helpful

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Totality enjoyable and informative

The author covers a remarkable range of technologies and the impact that instituting precision had on their evolution and development. Great anecdotes add to the enjoyment of this book

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Excellent and interesting.

I have been a high precision machinist for 35 years. As a tool and Diemaker and Moldmaker,
I had learned some of the history of my trade. To have it put in context so eloquently was a great pleasure. Bravo!!!

Sincerely Habilis

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • David
  • WACO, TX, United States
  • 05-12-18

Marvelous book from a master story teller.

Winchester never fails to deliver an entertaining, informative and engrossing story.

He weaves together innovators from times past to the present in a virtually seamless story.

He is a master story teller. You will love this book

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Utter joy!

As a mechanical design engineer this book has been an utter joy! The author expressed his passion for one of the most underrated professions these days. A lot can be said regarding the book from a literature point of view, but for me this going through this book has been on of the most satisfying experiences for me at least.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Constantly Educational

I am not an engineer, nor do I have a scientific mind, but Simon Winchester brings to life what could have been the driest topic and his narration is impeccable. Thank you Simon!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful