Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Thoughts on Winchester's Perfectionists: a History of Precision Engineering, Exacting accounts of Bramah locks, Winchester guns, Ford cars, Intel chips & the Hubble-telescope mirror

I read Simon Winchester's The Perfectionists with great interest. This book gives an overall history of precision engineering throughout the ages. It starts with the development of the Antikythera clock mechanism by the Greeks, which is inexact by today's standards but was still quite an accomplishment at the time. Then, the book goes through a succession of devices that become more and more precise – locks, rigging on ships, the famous H1 chronometer by Harrison, and so forth – many of which were made to advance military and commercial endeavors. The book culminates in today's contemporary world of atomic clocks, microchips, and GPS. Moreover, it touches upon the world of developing precise standards for various units such as the kilogram and meter. One of the most evocative stories was one drawn from the author's own childhood in which his father showed him precision of gauge blocks and how they tend to adhere simply because of their ultra-precise flatness. Finally, an interesting point was the fact that so many current precision devices and units – particularly with the redefinition of the metric system – rely on the measurement of time.

Overall, I would rate this a fascinating read, especially for anyone interested in gadgets and devices of precision.

The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World
May 8, 2018
by Simon Winchester (Author)



(Also, for CT natives, there's a bit of good stuff about the history of the CT River Valley.)