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The Toothpick: Technology and Culture

3.22  ·  Rating details ·  97 Ratings  ·  26 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
ebook, 464 pages
Published November 26th 2008 by Vintage (first published October 16th 2007)
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Jan 15, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: no one...
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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!
Sep 30, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1history, box8
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.
Feb 23, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Most boring book I have ever read! Paint drying would be more exciting. This book could have been ten pages long and accomplished the same thing.
Jul 28, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fiction
I'm not sure what I expected from this book, but I didn't find it. I think I was looking for broader lessons about technology and culture that more broadly applied to society, but those weren't present at all. Instead, this book is simply a very, very comprehensive history of the toothpick. But sometimes that history feels needlessly long. For instance, one of the Forster heirs moves to San Diego. That part is fine - but then he spends time telling us the brief history of someone with the same l ...more
Aug 09, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Cassie Eacker
Book #18 completed for Book Riot Challenge: "A Microhistory"
I've always been curious to the origins of the toothpicks, given that I take handfuls from every dining establishment that offers them and keep them with me. So it was very interesting learning of the history and manufacturing and such, but the book itself read like a liberal arts college student's term paper on a subject that doesn't relate at all to their major. There was a lot of research involved, sure, but the writing style seemed
Pierre Lauzon
Nov 06, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The Toothpick: Technology and Culture is the twelfth Henry Petroski book I have read so you can tell I am a long-term fan of his writing. I expected The Toothpick to be something of a sequel to his more famous tome, The Pencil.

I’m not sure if it was a lack of material or that the subject and players just weren’t interesting. The book really didn’t work and seemed forced at times.

I think there are a lot of better Henry Petroski books to read before delving into The Toothpick.
Jul 26, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: have-a-copy
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...
Matthew Philips
I can't help but question if this is a book-worthy subject. It really just felt like a way too long research paper with some interesting or amusing factoids thrown in. I love a toothpick and will continue to use them for numerous tasks in addition to their designated purpose but this book just wasn't necessary.
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....
Apr 06, 2009 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?
Jun 07, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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 07, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
i am just start reading now
Petroski can find fascinating details in darn near anything, so I shouldn't have been surprised at how enjoyable this exploration of the humble toothpick was.
Alan Perry
Lots of interesting points made in a disconnected and uninteresting manner.
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.
Feb 05, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I should have assumed that an object so commonly used would have such a rich history with such interesting stories.
David Webber
I now know more about toothpicks than any sane person has any reason to know
Nov 23, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: didn-t-finish, kindle
Too much business culture and not enough technology for an entire book.
Dec 01, 2007 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!
Nov 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
How could you resist learning everything there is to know (in appropriately minute detail) about the genesis and bright future of the toothpick?
Jan 07, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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).
Jul 14, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
rated it really liked it
Mar 27, 2008
Raymond B Manley
rated it it was amazing
Nov 08, 2016
rated it liked it
Aug 14, 2009
Andrew Hodgson
rated it really liked it
Sep 06, 2015
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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
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