Lori's Book Nook

The Ubiquitous Pencil

Posted on: July 9, 2007

As you may know, I have a weakness for cultural histories — “See the history of the world through this odd angle!”

So, the other day, when I was browsing the local 2ndhand bookstore, I happened upon a brilliant addition to my library — The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance by Henry Petroksi. ‘Tis a delightful romp through the history of such an amazingly simple, obvious thing (at least to us today), in the hopes that the mysteries of engineering become clearer:

“If we can capture the essence of engineers and engineering through the most elementary and least abstract of examples, then we can more easily get to the heart of the matter when confronted with something so large and unfamiliar that we can barely conceive of what it really looks like, let alone hold it in our hands and think about it.”

I have only just begun Chapter 5, Of Traditions and Transitions, the start of which should give you a more fanciful sample of Petroksi approachable academic, sometimes poetic style:

“The history of the pencil, when it has been written down at all, is full of erasures and revisions.”

Accurate, and cute.

To my delight, he’s written more, including an upcoming book (due in October of this year), entitled, simply enough: The Toothpick How can one resist!?!

It’s on the wishlist.


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