The Pencil by Henry Petroski: a short review

The best parts of this book are really excellent, five-star material. But it’s too long, and occasionally unfocused.

Recommended, all the same. The Pencil’s a not entirely successful effort to describe the engineering process by focusing on what’s known, and what’s not known, about the development of pencil technology since the tool was first created. When the book works, it’s really quite delightful. Petroski’s ability to assimilate apparently-unrelated and obscure data is quite impressive, as is his honest assessment of the quality of his source material.

For the most part, each chapter’s an independent essay, but with references to preceding chapters. That’s an implementation decision I probably don’t agree with, as the result’s unnecessarily fragmented and occasionally disorienting.

This short review was originally published on LibraryThing.