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The Toothpick: Technology and Culture

3.22 of 5 stars 3.22  ·  rating details  ·  72 ratings  ·  17 reviews
A celebration culture and technology, as seen through the history of the humble yet ubiquitous toothpick, from the best-selling author of The Pencil.

From ancient Rome, where emperor Nero made his entrance into a banquet hall with a silver toothpick in his mouth, to nineteenth-century Boston, where Charles Forster, the father of the American wooden toothpick industry, ensur
Paperback, 464 pages
Published November 4th 2008 by Vintage (first published October 16th 2007)
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Jul 28, 2008 Noel rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: no one...
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An exhaustive (and frankly, exhausting) look at the toothpick throughout history. Petroski is skilled at looking at common objects with an engineer's eyes. He is able to discuss the technology that helps make an object common in the first place (consistent, affordable reproduction) and the cultural impetus which makes a society value the effort to invest in that technology. When that happens an object becomes, almost paradoxically, common and iconic at the same time.

Just too much toothpick lore
It's hard to describe the ideal reader for this book. It has a lot of history, which I found interesting, but it also some engineering-related descriptions that I found difficult to follow (more pictures would have been nice). I also found a little redundant at times and thought he could have left out some of the detail. But it's certainly different and had lot of interesting information, and you can't deny his enthusiasm for the subject.
Phil Breidenbach
While he did come up with some interesting facts and stories about...toothpicks, there really is only "so much" I need to know about them. I have to hand it to Henry for his fact finding skills. I have read a couple of his books, The Pencil, a lot like this one, and The Book on the Bookshelf, a book I could really relate to!
This book was so-so...
Margaret Sankey
Yes, someone wrote a social history of the tooth-pick, and it is more interesting than you thought--the industry that grew up around making them commercially in New England, the patents, the marketing opportunities in distributing them as freebies with paper packaging, etiquette questions, choking hazards....
Books that explore a particular common object within its cultural, historical, and technological context are popular right now. It's quite interesting when done properly. Unfortunately, this book was both exhaustive and exhausting. I would have liked it better at half the size, I think.
It wasn't bad ... It was just much, much more in-depth than I needed it to be. I was looking for something with more of a How It's Made bent than a full-blown history book.
Apr 06, 2009 Emily marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
What are the chances that my library will actually have a book that is exclusively about toothpicks? Also, what are the odds that you could have a friend who is nerdy enough to be interested in a book exclusively about toothpicks?
This book wasn't bad. Considering it's subject matter, I actually breezed through it, learning a lot about toothpicks, patents, and business practices in the past. I really want to try a Brazilian rosewood hand-carved toothpick now!
I often thought I was a victim of an elaborate practical joke designed to see who would actually finish the book, but I love Petrovsky's writing and I marvel at the thoroughness of his research.
A little disappointing. I loved his "The Pencil" and most of the rest of his work. According my wife they're all part of my "Boring Book of the Month" club but this one got really dry, even for me.
Dec 01, 2007 Stephanie marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Dr. Petroski has written a number of books on the design of everyday objects. I'm particularly interested in this because Maine was the toothpick capital of the world at one time!
Sigh, after 60 pages of aimless meandering thru various anecdotes (all of which are vaguely connected at best) about toothpicks...yeah, I'm bored (and done).
How could you resist learning everything there is to know (in appropriately minute detail) about the genesis and bright future of the toothpick?
I know more about toothpicks than any sane person has the right to know - The first couple of chapters were the best in my opinion - early uses.
I should have assumed that an object so commonly used would have such a rich history with such interesting stories.
Alan Perry
Lots of interesting points made in a disconnected and uninteresting manner.
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Henry Petroski is a civil engineering professor at Duke University where he specializes in failure analysis.

Petroski was born in Brooklyn, New York, and in 1963, he received his bachelor's degree from Manhattan College. He graduated with his Ph.D. in Theoretical and Applied Mechanics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1968. Before beginning his work at Duke in 1980, he worked a
More about Henry Petroski...
The Book on the Bookshelf To Engineer Is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design The Evolution of Useful Things: How Everyday Artifacts-From Forks and Pins to Paper Clips and Zippers-Came to be as They are. The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance Small Things Considered: Why There Is No Perfect Design

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