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

3.70  ·  Rating details ·  591 ratings  ·  99 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." The award-winning author of Home, A Clearing in the Distance, and Now I Sit Me Down, Rybczynski once built a house using only hand tools. His intimate knowledge
Paperback, 176 pages
Published September 11th 2001 by Scribner (first published March 28th 2000)
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Average rating 3.70  · 
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ccccurt Heimbuck
Dec 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jul 13, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Dec 27, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Koen Crolla
Apr 30, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: history, woodworking

The book starts with Rybczynski relating how he was disappointed to be asked, in 2000, to write an article on the ``the best tool'' of the last millennium, then disappointed again when the asker wanted it to be about a tool-tool and not eyeglasses. Very begrudgingly, he goes over every woodworking tool he knows (which isn't many) but realises almost all of them are much older (though how old, he has no idea; he consistently credits the Romans for inventing everything from the try square
Jul 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Very good book. Takes a bit to really hit its stride but if you know very much about any of a number of historical eras it will connect some seemingly not related dots. I especially found the chapter on the screw interesting. Reminded me a bit of the old Connection series by James Burke.
May 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
An entire book about a screwdriver works because Witold Rybczynski is such a great writer.
Aug 25, 2019 rated it liked it
This book is very short and unfortunately feels a bit disorganized. Rybczynski does some great digging to find the history of the screw and the screwdriver, but the narrative is mostly about his quest to find the information and not about the actual development of the screw. I suspect that someone took Zissner's On Writing Well a bit too seriously.

In the earlier chapters, he gives a very strong impression that screwdrivers were invented some time in the 18th century, then he moves the date b
May 29, 2020 rated it liked it
In this case, the title tells just about all that you need for a book blurb--this is the basics of what the book is about. That said, Rybcynski starts with how he first started too look into this topic, which was an assignment to write about the best tool invented in the last millennia (this book was published in 2011) and it had to be a tool to make things with. He decided it really should be a hand tool, since power tools are improvements. Lo and behold, the screwdriver (not the screw) was bas ...more
Jun 12, 2018 rated it liked it
A nice and quick overview of the invention that changed everything forever, brought us to the moon and back, and let one man pull 60 tons of weight without breaking a sweat over two thousand years ago. So the subject, at least, is a very cool and often overlooked one. The writing is mostly agreeable but very much standard for this genre of book, the research is present and account for, and a lot of interesting things are covered, though this book could easily be 150 pages longer and go into a bi ...more
Jul 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Chapter Six, Mechanical Bent, felt like a shift. Earlier chapters chronicled the natural progress of the authors research. The subsequent, final chapter (7), recapitulates the evolution of the screw and screw driver as twin inventions with

My geometric take-away or reminder: a spiral is flat (2D) whereas a helix is not flat (3D).

It must have been a decision by the publisher to include some illustrations, relegate others to an appendix, and (I think) skip some more. I enjoyed the illustrations an
Jerry Knoll
Jul 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
What a find! I was looking for, and found One Good Turn, the mystery novel by Kate Atkinson, and saw this on the list. I got it at the same time. Such an interesting history of such an ordinary tool. I won't reach for my tool box again without thinking of the origins of the screw and the screw driver.
Ian G
Sep 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
A prime example of how a good writer can make something commonplace fascinating and even dramatic.

Originally written as a turn-of-the-millenium article for the NY Times, the author's expanded it into a short book.

I liked the history of the industrial rivalry between the inventor of the Roberton screw (square head) and Henry Ford and the Phillip's screw ( X head). Why is it in every human endeavour ( e.g. Edison vs. Tesla) there seems to be a bitter battle of some kind? Nature of the beast, I sup
Harry Chua
Sep 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
If you are an engineer or you are interested in mathematics, this is a good book for the weekend. The author has done a good job tracing back the history of screw and threaded devices... Keep this book away from your girlfriend ha
Jeremy German
Not bad, ended really abruptly. I was a little wary because some of the tool descriptions in the beginning were ever so slightly off. It made me question the accuracy of what was to come.
Nov 06, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A really fun short read. Recommended for anyone who enjoys research- in its first half, it's primarily a research narrative, and as it closes it's a lively history. I found it quite engaging.
Nicole Ankenmann
Jun 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019
Everything you ever wanted to know about this humble team of tools, and much, much more. A documentary in print.
Aug 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The book was actually great.
Nov 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: to-buy
If you like tools, you'll want to read this book. If you like tools *and* history, you will love it.
Amanda Witt
Dec 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting little book on a common item we don't think much about. Discusses people of ancient history like Archimedes and a glossary of sketches is included
Dec 30, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, technology
This was short. What there was was interesting but not fascinating. If it had been longer, it would have gotten boring, so kudos to the author for not trying to stretch his material.
Gary Lewis
May 17, 2020 rated it liked it
a long history of how both the screw and screwdriver came to be.
Julie H.
Mar 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Mary Catelli
Aug 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 25, 2015 rated it liked it
This book has evoked an odd response in me, one that I am not fully able to characterize. I *should* like this book more than I do, but overall, it leaves me somewhat flat. It is not the writing as such, I wish more popular authors sought this level of prose style as opposed to a more glib and pop-pandering style which is all too common.

Oddly, I suppose it is in large part the book's brevity. Usually I think authors are too prolix, but here I think Rybczynski is going too fast and failing to ta
Dec 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Stephany Wilkes
Sep 09, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 09, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: technology, history
I learned of Rybczynski from Nick Offerman's Gumption: Relighting the Torch of Freedom with America's Gutsiest Troublemakers and have been meaning to read his stuff since then. This is one of those books where the title and subtitle will tell you right away if you will enjoy it or not. If you aren't immediately repulsed by it, you'll probably like it.

For me, I dug it. A good half of this short book is basically describing the discovery and research process he undertook for the subject, which
Nov 18, 2016 rated it it was ok
About 15 years ago, micro-histories were the rage. I don't remember how many various books I purchased on the history of the pencil, spices, chocolate, numbers, etc. This book was one of those many purchases. For some reason, I never read it. So, I read it this week. I don't know why I thought I would be interested in this -- a history of some tools. I don't really even use tools except in extreme emergencies, and even then, I usually misuse tools. Anyway, the author assumes a level of knowledge ...more
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
Snail in Danger (Sid) Nicolaides
Jun 09, 2013 rated it liked it
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
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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

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