Review of “The Perfectionists” by Simon Winchester

Nikhil Garg
Oct 13, 2018 · 3 min read

Book on the history of making precise objects, from making a mechanical clock that would help sailors tell their longitude position while out at sea, to the lens for the Hubble telescope and of course today’s transistors.

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It contains many interesting stories and tidbits. For example:

  1. The making of precise objects today, using machine tools, is impressive. But even more impressive to me is making them by hand — for example John Harrison, who in the early through mid 1700s (over 45 years) made a sequence of time-pieces, culminating in a watch-sized timepiece that was only off by mere seconds after a few months’ long journey on a ship.

I found the book well worth reading. The author does go on a half-baked tangent near the end on whether pursuing precision (e.g. smaller transistors for faster computers) is “good” for humanity, but otherwise I found the story-telling to be great. And from what I’ve read separately, the book seems accurate.

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