Book Review: The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World, by Simon Winchester

Overall Impressions

I forget how I learned about this book, but when I saw it I immediately added it to my Amazon wish list as an idea for someone in my family to get for me as a holiday gift. I was delighted when it showed up later that year.

I definitely enjoyed this book as it covers a number of topics throughout history that underscore how precision (and to some extent accuracy) have improved in the past hundreds of years and how it has enabled certain advancements in our society.

I'm a sucker for engineering stories even for topics that I don't know much about. Case in point, there's a show called World's Toughest Fixes that I saw a few years ago and I was just enraptured by it. Similarly for PBS's NOVA. This is right along those lines, only specifically about making incredibly precise things.

The Good

Interesting (to me at least) topics about things that I generally have taken for granted. Like, how (and when) was the jump made from guns being created in a bespoke manner one at a time by hand, to where the parts were made interchangable and the machines to do so were available to reliably do it? This covers that topic, and many others.

I really enjoyed the chapter on clocks and the evolution from pendulums to winding movements to quartz to modern atomic clocks - and the various applications that each advancement allowed.

The Bad

At a few points, I was ready for the author to move on and he didn't. Maybe there are readers who got to those parts and were engrossed, but I had enough for that chapter.

I got to the end and didn't realize it! While I have a physical copy, before I started reading it I checked whether the local library had an ecopy that I could check out instead because I tend to enjoy reading on my Kindle more - and they did - so I happily consumed it that way. This meant that flipping around was something that I didn't do though, and so when I was about 75% of the way through the book and hit the "afterward", I was let down, as I thoought I had another 100 pages or so to go! Instead, I had a pretty big index and a glossary of terms and a bibliography and I was actually finished.

Final Thoughts

I can't recommend this in general because too many people are going to not enjoy it because they won't appreciate the contents. That's ok, but it won't prevent me from giving this a 4 out of 5 star rating. I really enjoyed it!