We are reading and enjoying Exactly: How Precision Engineers Created The Modern World by Simon Winchester. This is an entertaining history of precision engineering; fascinating for those of us in CNC machining industry. It has been short-listed for the international Royal Society Science Book Prize. See the review below for more.
Review by Robert O'Hearn
Oh, how I love the return of Simon Winchester! He is such an enthusiastic storyteller, and his love of language and ideas is contagious. Loyal readers will know a Winchester book is a journey with many an engaging diversion, and where an explanation of a scientific principle may end up explaining a great deal about us crazy humans along the way. Ostensibly a history of precision engineering,
Exactly is really a kind of love story to the idea of human-made perfection, of achieving with material form that which rivals nature.
The characters in this highly enjoyable tale are the obsessive perfectionists who relentlessly seek ultra-precision in machining to ever-lower tolerances. This is a ripping narrative full of quirky polymaths, rival inventions and eureka breakthroughs, telling of a pursuit that has become less about problem-solving than of controlling physics itself.
Winchester is always engaging, and the anecdotes about Rolls Royce are worth the price alone. I love this kind of book, and I’m no machine nerd.
You need no strong interest in engineering for this ride, because Winchester will deftly shows you all you need, with examples from cannons to quantum computing. You may never look at screws or padlocks or clocks the same way again after this. A riveting read? Yes, exactly.
Best-selling author Simon Winchester maps the amazing trajectory of the fathers of engineering. The lives of Wilkinson, Whitworth, Maudslay, Bramah, and Ramsden are interwoven with anecdotes such as the invention of the Rolls-Royce and Thomas Jefferson's innovations, offering a fascinating narrative about the men who shaped today's world. Through stories of their trials and tribulations, Exactly celebrates the memorable men who shaped today's world through their early innovation in engineering.
John Wilkinson, known as ‘“Iron-Mad” Wilkinson' became one of the richest Englishmen of the industrial revolution following the invention of perfectly round cylinders, which forever changed the steam engine business. Joseph Bramah masterminded an eclectic array of inventions, not least the banknote numbering machine, the beer tap, the hydraulic press, and locks. Jesse Ramsden crafted precise optical instruments.
As the first man to create a perfect sheet of steel, Henry Maudslay virtually invented the concept of precision. His peer Joseph Whitworth standardised it through the British Standard Whitworth system for imperial measurement – a framework that guides the railway, shipbuilding and car manufacturing industries to this day.
Simon Winchester chronicles the genesis of precision by shining a light on the quintet of pioneers who enabled us to see as far as the moon and as close as the Higgs boson through their unparalleled work of minutiae.