One Good Turn: A Natural History of the Screwdriver and the Screw
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One Good Turn: A Natural History of the Screwdriver and the Screw

3.65 of 5 stars 3.65  ·  rating details  ·  292 ratings  ·  59 reviews
The Best Tool of the Millennium
The seeds of Rybczynski's elegant and illuminating new book were sown by The New York Times, whose editors asked him to write an essay identifying "the best tool of the millennium." An award-winning author who once built a house using only hand tools, Rybczynski has intimate knowledge of the toolbox -- both its contents and its history -- w...more
Paperback, 176 pages
Published September 11th 2001 by Scribner (first published March 28th 2000)
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Stephany
I have picked up and put down this book several times before, but read it through quickly. It is FASCINATING (though you may not think the screwdriver and screw could be so) and absolutely delightful for the thinking and research process described. Though I've read other books by Rybczynski, I didn't appreciate what an excellent researcher he (and let's be honest, the team of researchers noted in the back of the book) is. Many of the paths Rybczynski follows begin with close examination of the t...more
Elizabeth
This book appeals to me in a number of ways. The first appealing aspect was the author. Rybczynski's style and reputation would make me inclined to read works of his on any number of subjects. I first encountered his writing as part of the architecture curriculum at UL, so I went in to his works expecting to be impressed. If those guys give it a stamp of approval, it must be exceptional.

The subject was, in fact, the next most appealing part of the book. As Rybczynski points out, the screw is a...more
Julie H.
If you've ever hung a door, planed wood, built a Morris chair that was custom-fit to a family member's dimensions--or even fantasized about doing so--this book is for you. Likewise, if you're an archaeologist well-versed in such riveting details (sorry) as the history of such ubiquitous and oft-encountered items as nails, then this, too, is the book for you. Why? Because it demonstrates how to write thoroughly, intelligently, and with passion about even the most quotidian of items: in this case,...more
guiltlessreader
Jan 01, 2012 guiltlessreader rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: trivia buffs and handymen (and women) alike
Originally posted on my blog, Guiltless Reading

You always need a screwdriver for something!

The book in one sentence: Let me take you on a quest to find out why the screwdriver is the best tool of the millennium.

My thoughts: I won One Good Turn: A Natural History of the Screwdriver and the Screw by Witold Rybczynski at a Christmas party (with some other goodies) and being the "read-anything" type of gal, I jumped into this one quite easily. This is so short (only a 143 pages) that I read it in tw...more
Mary Catelli
For a rather modern tool, it takes a good amount of hunting to track down the history and origin of the screwdriver.

It opens with an account of his being asked to do an article on the tool of the millennium. This is somewhat complicated by his hunt through his wood-working tools to find those that aren't millennia old. To be sure, there are some. Like the brace.

And as he finally realizes, the screwdriver, which indeed seems to be 18th century.

It takes some hunting. A French reference, older than...more
Rachelfm
A fairly engaging compact microhistory that spans ancient Greece through Canadian inventors. I enjoyed the historical implications of the technologies and how interesting it was to see that advances were made in big leaps at great intervals rather than steadily over time. A big takeaway from the book is that we can't assume in retrospect that technological advances were never guaranteed.
Anna-elise Price
I've been a fan of this author for a long time, but hadn't gotten around to reading this one. It is good, though not as deeply interesting as Home, my favorite of his books. It is quite a quick read, and it takes you through a journey through just over a thousand years to consider how different the world might have been without the work of a few individuals.
James Williams
There's not a whole lot to say about this book. It's pretty much exactly what it says on the tin: A popular history of the screwdriver and (somewhat necessarily) the screw.

Unfortunately, as important as the screw is to our modern civilization, there's not been a lot of academic work around it. So the majority of the book's prose is the author's descriptions of his visiting museums and libraries to try to find out as much as he can about the the history of this little marvel of the simple machin...more
Yvonne
Jul 14, 2008 Yvonne rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: men
Recommended to Yvonne by: bookmooch
Another rather odd book. I never expected to read a book on the history of the Screwdriver or indeed the screw.
It is well written and remarkably readable, but it does go off topic a little in parts, The book attempts to trace the history of the screwdriver but becomes and book about the screw. Of course the two items are linked, where you have a screw you will find a device for removing it, but it has never occurred to me the science in a screw.
Until reasonably recently screws were HANDMADE. Ca...more
Snail in Danger (Sid) Nicolaides
Jun 11, 2013 Snail in Danger (Sid) Nicolaides rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: tech-minded medievalists, historically-inclined Neal Stephenson fans
I was all set to give this four stars but then it ended kind of unexpectedly, without really wrapping everything up. (Also there is a typo in at least one of the references — Dumas instead of Daumas — that made it hard to track down.) It's still a really excellent book for people interested in the history of tools and technology.

I forgot to mention — there are several pages at the beginning where he muses over which tool he should pick to write about for a magazine article (said article having b...more
William Smith
Great read. The research journey was just as interesting as discovering the history of the tool.
Marks54
This is a short and well written book on the history of the screwdriver. I always enjoy reading books like this because I teach in a business school and am constantly on the lookout for interesting stories and examples to share with students. At the time I read this, I was teaching at Purdue and many of my students were former or current engineers, who sometimes do not believe there is much to learn about such a common tool as a screwdriver. But there is, including an entire history of the Frenc...more
Michael Burnam-fink
Ryczynski had simple assignment: write a history of the most important tool of the last millennium. But as with all simple assignments, it turned out to be far more complicated than expected. Most hand tools are ancient in origin, and power tools too specialized to count as ‘the most important tool’. But every household has a drawer full of screwdrivers, and nobody seems to know where they come from. “One Good Turn” is a quick and easy history. Not particularly deep, but fun and very readable.
Garrett Burnett
It's a book about the history of the screwdriver. Really it's an extra long feature article in book form. The author, a guy with a truly unpronounceable name, takes you on his exploratory journey of unearthing the most important tool invented in the last thousand years. As he makes his case for the screw and screwdriver, he introduces a lot of great tool history and trivia. My favorite part was his discussion of the button hole, one of those very-useful but not-so-intuitive inventions.
Craig Russell
One Good Turn – A Natural History of the Screwdriver and the Screw
By Witold Rybczynski (HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.)

Know someone who lacks historical perspective?

Buy this little gem of a book and throw it at them. Rybczynski has authored many excellent non-fiction books (The Perfect House is another personal favourite).

This one should be part of every high school history and science class. Brilliant.

Clear. Always interesting. He makes us all smarter.
Patrick
Jan 09, 2011 Patrick rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Andrew James, Michael Black
Shelves: craft
Delightful, entertaining little book for anyone interested in craft or mechanical engineering (even as an amateur). This is kind of like one of those extended New Yorker articles, but is much more down to earth. Rybczynski's enthusiasm for tools, invention, and utility is infectious. It is not a big or "important" book, but is nevertheless (perhaps all the more so) enjoyable. Am now mining the bibliographic notes for references on old tools and mechanisms.
Rebecca
Not my usual reading, but this short (and often wandering) history of "the greatest tool of the millenium" grabbed me and sucked me into musings about lathes, knights, and the industrial revolution. Rybczynski is one of my favorite authors, but this was an unusual project for him.

While the screwdriver was the first tool I grabbed when leaing home, I hadn't considered how useful it is--nor how modern. An engaging read and a nice gift book.
David Stanley
One of the marks of a great writer is that s/he can take a topic that is so mundane one rarely gives it a second thought and turns out a book that can't be put down. Witold never disappoints and One Good Turn is no exception. It is the story of the screw and screwdriver; that little gizmo that is about as everyday as a paper clip. Except it's not. If you are at all interested in "perfect things," you will be fascinated by One Good Turn.
Claire
An interesting enough history of some of the tools we use all the time, but a little TOO specialist for me to appreciate fully I think. Still, a few neat insights into how they came about.

"Is not invention the poetry of science?" asked E.M. Bataille, a French pioneer of the steam engine. "All great discoveries carry with them the indelible mark of poetic thought. It is necessary to be a poet to create."
Coqueline
I don't particularly enjoy history, but I love reading the history of humble, useful everyday things, like the longitude, curry sausage, and in this case; the screwdriver and the screw (who cares about battles if you can learn how screws came about?).

After reading it, I feel this book can use a lot more illustrations. Some of the machinery described is just way too complicated for mental visualisation.
Maggie
Engaging little book.

I loved this passage:

Mechanical genius is less well understood and studied than artistic genius, yet it surely is analogous. "Is not invention the poetry of science?" asked E M Bataille, a French pioneer of the steam engine. "All great discoveries carry with them the indelible mark of poetic thought. It is necessary to be a poet to create."
Dawn Wallhausen
I never thought a book on this topic could be so interesting. I also wouldn't have expected there to be any mystery as to when the screwdriver came into being; one would expect that it has been around as long as screws have. But Rybczynski did his homework and uncovered a bit of a mystery in the process.

This is a short and very engaging read.
Ammie
A nice little jaunt through the history of carpentry in general and, more specifically, the screw and screwdriver. Rybczynski always makes me feel privy to a warm intimacy, and this was no exception; I especially liked that he walked the reader through his research, showing the train of inquiry and happenstance that lead to his conclusions.
Cheryl in CC NV
I'm just not quite mechanically inclined to appreciate everything here without many more pictures than he provided - and he did provide lots. The main thing I got out of it is that a screw and an auger and a bolt and other helical tools are actually quite different, and that it took lucky leaps of imagination to develop them all.
Bluezamia
I love the idea of this!
The Idea that there is anything to say on the topic of the history of the screw & screwdriver had never occurred to me. Very few truly new tools evolved between the year 1000 and 1999, most were developed in pre-history and upgrades throughout the millennium. The final upgrade being power.
ccccurt Heimbuck
If a book has "natural history" in the title, I'm going to love it.

I found this book at Goodwill, and it's exactly the type of book I'm looking for when I go on my book hunts--specific but while saying something about the entirety of human knowledge, quirky, and something that will lead me to lots of other books.
Marie
Rarely do I feel like I can't put down a non-fiction book. This unassuming history is full of interest and surprises. It works backward through the industrial revolution to the matchlock riffle to medieval armor and finally ends with the famous water screw of Archimedes. Loved every minute, a quick read.
claire
unless you really want a thorough history (sometimes encyclopedic in its dryness) of the screw, this book probably won't be very useful for you. There are some interesting parts though and Rybczynski deserves credit for trying to bring some life into the subject, though not always succeeding.
orelia
This is one of the best non-fiction books I have read recently. Although you might think the history of the screw and screwdriver would be fascinating, this book dabbles into a variety of fields making the history of innovation exciting and accessible for those of us who are not engineers.
Brenda Mengeling
Enjoyable and entertaining account of not only the history of the screw and screwdriver but how the author researched the whole issue. It's a little quirky, but I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys learning about the inventions of things we use everyday and take for granted.
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Witold Rybczynski was born in Edinburgh, of Polish parentage, raised in London, and attended Jesuit schools in England and Canada. He studied architecture at McGill University in Montreal, where he also taught for twenty years. He is currently the Martin and Margy Meyerson Professor of Urbanism at the University of Pennsylvania, where he also co-edits the Wharton Real Estate Review. Rybczynski has...more
More about Witold Rybczynski...
Home: A Short History of an Idea A Clearing in the Distance: Frederick Law Olmsted and America in the 19th Century The Most Beautiful House in the World Last Harvest: How a Cornfield Became New Daleville: Real Estate Development in America from George Washington to the Builders of the Twenty-First Century, and Why We Live in Houses Anyway Makeshift Metropolis: Ideas About Cities

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