The bestselling author of The Professor and the Madman returns with this quirky history of the precision engineers whose meticulous tinkering has kept the world running, blending his research with memoir and meditations.
Should we mindlessly applaud this drive toward exactitude as an obvious good? Winchester is reverent about the engineers he profiles, but he also sees the other side. As he travels east and showcases Japanese devotion to craftsmanship, particularly highlighted in that country’s manufacture of precise timepieces, he reminds us of the beauty of imperfections as seen in bamboo handicrafts and handmade lacquerware, the inexactness of nature adding subtle eccentricities to our creations and, with them, charm. The Perfectionists succeeds resoundingly in making us think more deeply about the everyday objects we take for granted. It challenges us to reflect on our progress as humans and what has made it possible. It is interesting, informative, exciting and emotional, and for anyone with even some curiosity about what makes the machines of our world work as well as they do, it’s a real treat.
Mr. Winchester covers more than 200 years of fine-tuning in this work, and corrals a large cast of eccentric individuals ... Personally, Mr. Winchester professes a preference, even a passion, for the imprecise ... Not all parts of the book fit precisely together. Mr. Winchester inserts many footnotes (appearing every few pages in some chapters) that supply all sorts of ancillary information: a line of poetry, a bit of historical background, a fine point of definition, an amusing factlet. But the footnotes are just as likely to contain pertinent material that could have, should have been incorporated into the main body of the text rather than relegated to a dozen or more lines of tiny type ... If we fail to accept the equal value of the natural order, the author warns, 'then nature will in time overrun ... none shall survive—no matter how precise' ... brighter prospect glimmers in the interesting afterword that Mr. Winchester appends about metrology, the science of measurement. Here he offers a brief history of standard units such as the meter and the kilogram. The process cheers him considerably ... the 'duration by which, fundamentally, we measure everything that we make and use, and which in turn helps establish for us with unfailing exactitude the precision that allows the modern world to function.'
Winchester is a champion humanizer; it's the foremost of his many writing skills. He sifts through the historical record, builds impressive bibliographies, and then crafts it all into three-dimensional characters ... Winchester carefully and entertainingly furthers his story from mechanics to precision to hyper-precision of the kind that, for example, led to the great line of Leica lenses prized by photographers for decades ... The story Winchester tells is one of steady, almost inexorably increasing complexity, and this can make the book's later sections heavier going for the lay reader ... It's a testament to Winchester's narrative skill, honed over two dozen books, that he makes even the most arcane of technical specifics smoothly comprehensible in context ... The Perfectionists is at heart an account of the unsung heroes of our modern world.