This truly remarkable book, with its truly unremarkable title, is a page turner. Here, for example, in the engineer-author’s untechnical language, is a sample of its contents that is both amusing and revealing: “It is said to have been Cardinal Richelieu’s disgust with a frequent dinner guest’s habit of picking his teeth with the pointed end of his knife that drove the prelate to order all the points of his table knives ground down.” Not only does this book tell us about the evolution of familiar artifacts such as flatware, but it also tells us about the multitudes who designed and used them. Quoting from The Evolution of Technology by George Basalla, the author provides us another wonderful anecdote: “In 1867 Karl Marx was surprised to learn … that five hundred different kinds of hammers were produced in Birmingham, England, each one adapted to a specific function in industry or the crafts.” This kind...


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