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Cool Tools: A Catalog of Possibilities

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Cool Tools is a highly curated selection of the best tools available for individuals and small groups. Tools include hand tools, maps, how-to books, vehicles, software, specialized devices, gizmos, websites -- and anything useful. Tools are selected and presented in the book if they are the best of kind, the cheapest, or the only thing available that will do the job. This is an oversized book which reviews over 1,500 different tools, explaining why each one is great, and what its benefits are. Indirectly the book illuminates the possibilities contained in such tools and the whole catalog serves an education outside the classroom. The content in this book was derived from ten years of user reviews published at the Cool Tools website, cool-tools.org.

472 pages, Paperback

First published October 1, 2003

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About the author

Kevin Kelly

112 books1,403 followers
Kevin Kelly is Senior Maverick at Wired magazine. He co-founded Wired in 1993, and served as its Executive Editor from its inception until 1999. He is also editor and publisher of the Cool Tools website, which gets half a million unique visitors per month. From 1984-1990 Kelly was publisher and editor of the Whole Earth Review, a journal of unorthodox technical news. He co-founded the ongoing Hackers' Conference, and was involved with the launch of the WELL, a pioneering online service started in 1985. He authored the best-selling New Rules for the New Economy and the classic book on decentralized emergent systems, Out of Control."

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5 stars
554 (57%)
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276 (28%)
3 stars
104 (10%)
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17 (1%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 62 reviews
Profile Image for Mario the lone bookwolf.
805 reviews3,852 followers
February 26, 2020
That truly escalated slowly, million of years just stones and wood and the one or other obsidian knife and then, bang, human creativity explodes and is accelerating more and more towards a disruptive equilibrium.

Kelly shows a kind of technical, cultural evolution, history encyclopedia, a survival guide for if the world doesn´t completely break down, but one has still functioning equipment she/he should know how to use. Even if the apocalypse is perfect and nothing functions anymore, there are still enough practical tips that don´t need much electricity or functioning infrastructure.

My main thought was how much unleashed creativity is rolling in our direction at the moment, with all the fab labs, better and cheaper technologies, breakthroughs in many fields of science, especially genetic engineering, coding, and 3D printing, that enable everyone interested to become a creator and inventor her/himself. Especially organized citizen scientists in metropolises and larger cities with a bit public and private funding in fab labs are coming closer to being able to produce and reverse engineer nearly anything and develop things by themselves, immediately sharing it with the rest of the world.

That´s not a book to read once or possibly twice if some passage may have been marked, but something to get inspired by. The theoretical and specialist elements are broken down to the absolute minimum so that I even read passages about topics I would generally avoid (even Wiki articles) because I know that I don´t have the foreknowledge to understand how it works. It´s primarily a book for geeks, tech specialists, and enthusiasts and reading all of it might be counterproductive if one has no specific interest in one topic, but it deals with such a wide range of applications that it´s close to impossible to not be interested in the one or the other.

A wiki walk can be as refreshing to the mind as a walk through nature in this completely overrated real life outside books:
Profile Image for Wink.
36 reviews3 followers
April 7, 2014

For over ten years, Kevin Kelly (a co-founder of Wired and an editor of the Whole Earth Catalog) has been publishing recommendations of useful tools on his website, Cool-Tools.org. Using the Whole Earth Catalog as an inspiration, Kevin has collected over 1,500 reviews from his website into a full-color, massively oversized, 472 page catalog of how-to information of immense interest to makers. Kevin’s definition of a tool includes anything that helps you get something done — it could be a website, a book, a map, a material, an item of clothing, a gadget, or anything else that improves your abilities. If you wanted to rebuild civilization after a zombie apocalypse, this would be your guidebook.

The effect of seeing these reviews on large pages (when opened, a two-page spread is 22” x 17”) is remarkable. As Kevin wrote on his site, “There is something very powerful at work on large pages of a book. Your brain begins to make natural associations between tools in a way that it doesn’t on small screens. The juxtapositions of diverse items on the page prods the reader to weave relationships between them, connecting ideas that once seemed far apart. The large real estate of the page opens up the mind, making you more receptive to patterns found in related tools. There’s room to see the depth of a book in a glance. You can scan a whole field of one type of tool faster than you can on the web. In that respect, a large paper book rewards both fast browsing and deep study better than the web or a small tablet.” As a result, Kevin has no plans for releasing an electronic version of the book (and the website is the electronic version, anyway).

When Kevin showed me a copy — airmailed from Hong Kong hot off the press — my mind was blown, just as it was when I discovered a copy of the Whole Earth Catalog when I was a 10-year-old. This is the book I want my kids to blow their minds with. — Mark Frauenfelder

Cool Tools: A Catalog of Possibilities
by Kevin Kelly
Cool Tools Lab
2013, 472 pages, 11 x 13.9 x 0.9
$31 Buy a copy on Amazon
202 reviews2 followers
December 24, 2014
A unique and enjoyable book, despite its many typos and errors.

In the spirit of Stewart Brand's Whole Earth Catalog, Kevin Kelly has produced this great guide to all sorts of things you never knew you needed. It's a big hefty book, full of people's recommendations for gadgets, books, services, websites, and more -- each one something that the person considers a 'cool tool'. In some cases, the recommendations are for one particular brand or design of a common device; of all the _____ out there, this one's the best. In other cases, the recommendations are for a gizmo you never knew existed but might appreciate.

I read the book cover to cover (over the course of almost a year) with a pen in hand, circling interesting things like a kid with a toy catalog. The book is full of stuff you want, yet somehow its overall tone manages to avoid crass materialism. Kelly suggests repeatedly that many of these tools are just as good borrowed as owned, and his overall attitude is clearly attuned to sustainability and a recognition that more toys do not equal a better life.

Glad I read it, and I hope Kelly updates it in the future with new recommendations for cool tools.
Profile Image for jen.
86 reviews13 followers
February 24, 2014
Plus: Lots of fun if you are into tools and gadgets, especially if you have a wide range of interests. Recommendations were mostly right on for topics I had researched myself at some point, and I found some good suggestions for things I had planned to look into eventually. Minus: This information is on the Internet. Does it really merit a print book? Yes, the layout is nice and it makes for a nice coffee table book, but something similarly useful could be done online and not be outdated in a second. This is supposed to the "new Whole Earth Catalog." Is it really necessary to relive and reinvent everything from the hippie/counterculture movement? I don't think so. Also, some minor editing errors.
Profile Image for Miriam.
5 reviews
December 30, 2016
An entertaining collection of amazing and useful tools for everyday (and not) use. I learned so much from reading about these items and my next amazon order is going to make a heavy dent in my bank balance.
Profile Image for Matthijs.
3 reviews
January 20, 2017
This is without a doubt the best gift you could ever give a curious, maker minded young friend, neighbour, niece or nephew of all ages.Get a copy yourself too though or you'll stay for ever jealous. Leave it out on your coffee table am no guest will be able to stop browsing.
Profile Image for James.
3,427 reviews19 followers
March 1, 2016
The Whole Earth Catalog rides again! Vastly updated with website. Makes me feel younger all of a sudden...
Profile Image for Lee Kuiper.
76 reviews
October 17, 2020
This book is truly unique.

At first I assumed it was a glorified catalog but slowly realized it's actually a rare instantiation of Stuart Kauffman's idea of expanding "the adjacent possible" (or at least my, admittedly, rudimentary concept of it); so many unique tools alongside creative ways to think about using those tools to expand into new, adjacent yet unexplored possibilities.

I was surprised how easily I lost myself in it.

An "expansive" book:
Approach this book ruminatively and you may find what is really happening is an expansion of your creative problem solving as well as an expansion of the range of tools to do things you would have never thought of before.

A book of imagination seeds:
It's full of possible ideas and, if you give yourself the time and mental space, wonderings that can lead to creative exploration and experimentation.

It might not be for everyone but if you like to make things (or know someone who does) -crafty, tinkering, creative, mechanical, inventor types- it's solid gold.
Profile Image for Blas Moros.
59 reviews10 followers
November 20, 2021
VERY thorough and complete book with only the best – best value or cheapest tools for everything from gardening to programming. A lot of it may not be relevant to each individual person, but it is an amazing compilation of products and gadgets

What I got out of it
Amazing dedication to put together such a list of cool tools, gadgets, etc. and this is only a fraction of what is in the book. Highly recommend

Key Takeaways
The following are the areas that interested me the most and which I found interesting
1. ... Read more at https://blas.com/cool-tools/
Profile Image for Yasmeen.
241 reviews17 followers
December 28, 2022
When it was published almost a decade ago, this was just a book collected with tremendous effort and lived-in consumerist creativity.
Today, it's an amazing map of everything that seemed to be shaping up ideally, technology-wise; but lost all its good defining qualities as it maximized (or failed to maximize) mainstream attraction.
Profile Image for Harry Lee.
427 reviews2 followers
December 11, 2022
I don't know if this book will age well ... given that tools change over time.
I like to think of this as a form of 'Whole Earth'catalog of ools, and maybe some day look back this book.
I came across some good recommendations from here.
August 23, 2018
Amazing collection of tools.

You just cannot miss the varied possibilities that it unfurls. Perfect bite sized reviews of cool tools. Must have book in your library.
Profile Image for John.
114 reviews5 followers
September 2, 2019
One of the coolest books ever. It has tools for everything. AND. I. MEAN. EVERYTHING!
Profile Image for Adam Czarnecki.
90 reviews7 followers
February 25, 2015
It's hard to describe what this book actually is. It is presented like a catalog of random things, but as the introduction says, it's less of a collection of product reviews but more of a tool itself. The goal of the book is to get you thinking about stuff in new ways by making you aware of tools you might not even know exist.

Tools, here, are not defined as something you find in the garage (although they can be). Rather, tools are "anything that can be useful." So while I did put a few gadgets on my wishlist as I read, I also ended up with a lot of new book recommendations as well. And while every page may not be relevant to your interests, every time I walked away I felt a little smarter. The entire book gave me the same feeling I get whenever I come across something random on Amazon and think "wow, I had no idea this was a thing, that's pretty cool," and see that it is rated almost all 5-stars, meaning... it actually works.

If I had to pick one word (I don't... realistically I could go on for 18983 more characters, but whatever) to describe the book, it would be "clever."
Profile Image for Jasper Burns.
184 reviews6 followers
June 5, 2020
I went into this book after hearing Kevin Kelly mention it on a Tim Ferriss podcast. I have been interested in construction and was hoping to be introduced to some interesting tools. Well, I got that and so much more. The book is dauntingly long, with tools, gadgets, or gizmos for almost every part of life.

I would not really recommend reading it cover to cover as I did, it is much better as a reference for a certain type of project you might embark on—read the Table of Contents. Additionally, some of the tech-related tools might be outdated at this point; a book of this scope should be updated with new additions to stay current. Nonetheless very informative and applicable to people with almost any type of project in mind.

View my best reviews and a collection of mental models at jasperburns.blog.
Profile Image for Norman Metzger.
74 reviews
January 22, 2014
What you will not find here are reviews of computers, routers, smart phone, and the like; after all, you have CU,CNET, Lifehacker, etc. for that. What you will find here are well written and certainly always knowledgeable and experiential reviews of pens, mouse traps, good weather sealants, LED bulbs and much more; after all, this large and heavy volume -- don't read in bed even if you could, since if you fall asleep it will crush you -- almost joyfully takes pleasure in telling you about the items that won't show up in the usual reviews but are essential to carrying on our quotidian lives. It is well edited, well written, laid out in a way that is at once quirky and great fun. And makes it fun to build up your upper arm/shoulder strength.
Profile Image for Andy.
19 reviews
September 8, 2014
This is a great resource for the curious mind in 2014! I have many areas of interest and this book covers many of them. I found especially useful the recommendations for practical day-to-day tools, for example the recommended ergonomic computer mouse and keyboard.

I also enjoyed reading about recommended books for personal finance, vagabonding, games for kids etc.

I borrowed this 4.5 lb book from the library-it was quite the tome to lug home-worth it!

I took off a star because of the New Age lean to it. This is a very common feature of a lot of the movers and shakers on the most popular (US) blogs (i.e. Tim Ferriss).
Profile Image for Richard M.
9 reviews2 followers
March 2, 2014
It's like the "Whole Earth Catalog" came back to life, only more techy and more attuned to what real people are likely to want or need to do. Both that book and this one serve a dual purpose, at least for me-- they're tools, specifically tools to find other tools, and they're dream machines. If you know you want something (a thing, an experience, a goal, or just to know what you really want), "Cool Tools" provides thousands of prompts that may help. I'm still browsing it and expect to do so for months to come.
Profile Image for Clearview Library District.
159 reviews9 followers
April 3, 2014
This is a great book to have lying out on your kitchen table or coffee table, especially if you are an unschooler. "Cool Tools: A Catalog of Possibilities" is a book packed with interesting tools used in a wide variety of fields. The pages are filled with conversation starters, introductions to new interests, and a great way to find unexpected interests your children have. Just leave it out and let your children leisurely flip through the pages and see what they discover! Or read it yourself and let your curiosity inspire your kid.

Profile Image for Amar Pai.
960 reviews101 followers
June 19, 2015
This is a marvelous catalog of tools, in the broadest sense of "tools." It is opulently large-format. Will not fit in your bag. I enjoyed reading the thoughtful entries on A Pattern Language and Infrastructure: A Field Guide-- both of these classics are given the treatment they deserve. Oh also, in the cooking section they recommend the complicated rice cooker favored by Mike Williams and Angi Chau. How can a rice cooker have so many buttons?

A lot of people I know would love this book.

Profile Image for Beth.
188 reviews1 follower
November 24, 2014
This is a BIG book full of reviews of "tools" of every sort including online items. Lots of pictures, heavy paper, I think it weighs about 4 lbs. Reviews by the author as well as experts in relevant fields. I brought it home because I thought it was cool but I haven't really had a chance to look at it because my husband and teenage son have been poring through it. It's sort of like a giant catalog of everything you'd ever need or didn't know you needed. Probably a perfect gift for anyone who likes to build things or is into new gadgets.
Profile Image for Fab.
188 reviews16 followers
January 25, 2015
This book is insane. It's a massive catalogue of the coolest tools on Earth for hundreds of different categories. I went through this from cover to cover and managed to find some great tools that would be helpful for me right now but also saw tons of things that could be interesting to use / try sometime in the future. What I really like about this book is that it opens your eyes to the enormous number of different possible things that humans could be doing with their time. The trick isn't to do every activity and use every tool but that we treat this book as "A Catalog of Possibilities".
Profile Image for João Rocha.
7 reviews1 follower
February 19, 2015
You don´t really read this. You browse it, realising that Kevin Kelly is probably the most interesting person alive. At least one of the most interested, if you like puns. EVERYTHING is here. I love how-tos and while this is not an how-to book, it is full of places to start new projects or explorations. Keep it around and check it out everynow and then. A printed book is probably not the best format for this information, but this is not about finding info when you need it. It´s about finding it in the future, in your dusty bookshelf. I look forward to that
Profile Image for Koen Crolla.
743 reviews187 followers
June 11, 2015
Sincere effort, but the fact that it was self-published shows in the crowded and occasionally confusing layout, the wildly varying picture quality, and the text itself. Most of the things you'd expect to find in a book like this are in it (including three separate models of Leatherman), as well as, as you might also expect, a whole lot of chaff.
Still, it will undoubtedly have a few solid suggestions that will be new to you, and it's nice to browse through when you're bored, though its size makes it unfit for bathroom reading.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 62 reviews

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