The Perfectionists: A book review by Bob Morris

The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World
Simon Winchester
Harper/An imprint of Harper/Collins (May 2018)

A brilliant examination of the imprecise process of precision’s evolution

As Simon Winchester explains, “Precision was a concept that was invented, quite deliberately, out of a single and well-recognized historic need. It was brought into being for severely practical reasons that had much to do, not with any dreamy twenty-first century wish to confirm (or otherwise) the existence of vibrations from the collisions of distant stars. Rather, it had to do with a down-to-earth eighteenth century realization of what was then a pressing matter of physics, and which was related to the potentially awesome power of that high temperature form of water that since the century before has been known as and defined by the word steam.”

Long ago, I concluded that perfection is an ongoing process, not an ultimate destination.


These are among the dozens of subjects of greatest interest to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Winchester’s coverage:

o Timekeepers (28-37)
o John Harrison (30-37)
o Cannon making (41-44)
o Steam power/James Watt (44-52)
o Joseph BramaH (53-600)

o Lathes (61-65)
o Social consequences of precision (72-75, 89-90, and 116-117)
o Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, London, 1851 (111-127)
o Automobiles (129-171)
o Henry Ford/Ford Motor Company (155-167)

o Aircraft/Jet engines/ (173-214)
o Rolls Royce jet engines (196-213)
o Lenses (223-228)
o Hubble space telescope (229-253)
o Doppler-based navigation systems (259-265)

o Global positioning systems (265-274)
o Transistors (278-289)
o Microprocessor chips (288-299)
o Seiko (310-322)
o Metric system (334-347)


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