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Exactly: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World

4.21  ·  Rating details ·  331 ratings  ·  41 reviews
Bestselling author Simon Winchester writes a magnificent history of the pioneering engineers who developed precision machinery to allow us to see as far as the moon and as close as the Higgs boson. Precision is the key to everything. It is an integral, unchallenged and essential component of our modern social, mercantile, scientific, mechanical and intellectual landscapes. ...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published June 10th 2018 by William Collins
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4.21  · 
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 ·  331 ratings  ·  41 reviews

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Engineers are probably some of the least appreciated people in the UK and yet if you think about it everything is dependent on them. If there were no engineers you would not have items like your phone, your car, bicycles, kitchen gadgets, computers, electricity and even the very infrastructure that means that you can live life in the modern way. Things are much better built now too, compared to even twenty years ago, that extra precision we have got makes for better quality products. But, what i ...more
David Mitchell
Jul 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
All this precision and then... there's me with: "lefty loosey righty tighty".
Jun 23, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Despite the excellent premise and all the fascinating stories, which I enjoyed very much, I can't help feeling a little disappointed with this book. Winchester cranks out his books in a way that feels to me a bit rushed. The Man Who Loved China and The Map that Changed the World both spent a lot of time saying how wonderful/ incredible/revolutionary the respective subjects of the books were but little time explaining WHY, perhaps because that would have taken a lot more work. I get the feeling t ...more
Jan 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Exactly : How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World (2018) by Simon Winchester is an insightful book that looks at just how important the gradual improvements in precision have been in creating the modern world. Winchester is a master of modern non-fiction and with precision he's picked a topic that is ideal for his writing style.

Each chapter of the book has an increasing magnitude of precision starting from 0.1 and finishing with many, many more orders of magnitude. The book starts with
Mary Whitton
Jul 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Another great read from Simon Winchester. (Two other favorites are: The Professor and the Madman about the making of the OED; and The map that changed the world about the making of the first geological subsurface map showing strata of materials underground. It was based on observations of materials (in layers) in the cuts made to create the canal system covering England)

I’ve seen this new book on Amazon with two titles.

#1. Exactly: how precision engineers created the modern world

And. #2. (Witho
Xavier Shay
Jun 26, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good history of things I didn't know about. Would have enjoyed more detail on the actual mechanisms of precision, though maybe video is a better medium for that.
Steve Agland
Sep 13, 2018 rated it liked it
This book tells the history of precision engineering really as a series of magazine articles: vignette profiles of people, or, more often, corporations in the manufacturing sector. It's interspersed with usually entertaining autobiographical anecdotes, mind-boggling mental images, and some somewhat tedious philosophical musing.

The book proceeds mostly chronologically via an amusing conceit of finer and finer tolerances, with each chapter title being tinier and tinier fractions of an inch. The au
Lloyd Downey
Mar 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
I had only read the first 3 pages when I was struck by a sense of deja vu. The author's father had given him some precision engineered gauge blocks which were impossible for him to separate by pulling them apart. They had to be slid apart. It took me back instantly to my 2nd and 3rd year of high school when we worked with such blocks and attempted to achieve some degree of precision using gauge blocks and hand files and a greasy blue marking ink to show where the high spots were. I immediately c ...more
Michael Pryor
Jan 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
Polished, insightful, charming.
Ondrej Urban
Sep 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Exactly is a flawed book in many aspects, that reads just so-so well and actually - if you are like me - teaches you quite a lot. The language is beautiful and rich (though you'll struggle with some of the more obscure words almost for sure) and you can really feel the author's care for the subject. Full of stories and anecdotes, I did not find a boring part in the book - even though the author sometimes goes off to a philosophical tangent, by the next page he's usually back on track telling you ...more
Precision is something that is so integral to our lives it is almost impossible to imagine what life was like without it. Precision has given us the ability to replicate an object infinitely, and with this ability came the foundations of the production line and the industrial revolution.
We drive around in cars that are made to be exactly the same as every other car of the same model. We walk in shoes of a certain size and when we need another pair we can just ask for that size with the reasonabl
Rob O'Hearn
Sep 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Oh, how I love the return of Simon Winchester! He is such an enthusiastic storyteller, and his love of language and ideas is contagious. Loyal readers will know a Winchester book is a journey with many an engaging diversion, and where an explanation of a scientific principle may end up explaining a great deal about us crazy humans along the way. Ostensibly a history of precision engineering, Exactly is really a kind of love story to the idea of human-made perfection, of achieving with material f ...more
Gilles Demaneuf
Dec 09, 2018 rated it liked it
Not his best book by far but still enjoyable.

There are issues with this book.
First the scope is rather arbitrary. For instance little is expended on early (Sumerian, Chinese) astronomical calculations, including the very precise length of the year they reached or the Roman aqueducts. Ok the book is about industrial precision. Still - it would not have hurt putting it in context.

Also the related question of international norms is not really discussed - at least not in a way where one really compr
Jun 18, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting topic, but the author apparently gets paid by the word, or perhaps by the adjective. Sometimes this was just stylistically annoying, but it often rose to the point of undercutting the actual content. In a chapter on Whittle's development of the turbojet engine the author talks about the high temperatures and pressures in the combustion chamber, "the beating heart" of the new engine. The whole point of a gas turbine engine, and in Whittle's view the main improvement over the reciproca ...more
Sep 06, 2018 rated it it was ok
The premise is a good one, and the right sort of examples are given. But - the language! The purple prose, the over elaborate and rambling adjectives! They get so very, very irritating after a while.

A Rolls Royce engine is not a 'confection', and even it were, he uses that exact term several times for different things. It's a twee-ness that permeates quite a lot of the book, to be honest.

As someone else said, you could discover all of this information from Wikipedia, minus the annoying affected
Jul 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wabi-sabi versus precision

My life struggle in the title. This book goes into great depths to explain why things became precise with greater and greater tolerances applied to more and more perfect items. As a pharmacist, I understand the need for precision but that has always fought against the side of me that appreciates a finely crafted thing. I'm not sure that making things smaller and smaller yet more and more precise can end in anything but dead ends. Some things are meant to be imprecise.
Steve Paget
Apr 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a fantastic book for anyone who has an interest in engineering. The author not only details the progress of human manufacturing as it has become ever more precise, but also provides us with fascinating human stories of the people who have worked to bring about the modern world.

Winchester's style is very engaging, turning what could be very dry content about steam pistons, jet engines and transistors into little stories of human endeavour, mixing in his own life experiences to show how th
Dec 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
What a great collection of stories about the history of precision, machines, and measurement in general. So much stuff written about in a very engaging way, lots of which I had no knowledge of before. I studied STEM and somehow had no clue where the metre or the kg came from, or that Hubble had massive issues when it launched. Congratulations Simon this is a great book which I will be sharing and recommending widely.
Feb 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I appear to have taken a long time to finish this fabulous book, but that's because my economist husband (who has inherited what I describe as a double engineering gene) booknapped it when I was halfway through and has read it as well! This is Winchester at his best, stuffing in the facts layer upon layer with many a diverting side-story and footnote, seeking in his writing the precision he writes about
Anders Høeg Nissen
Quite simply one of the best popular science books I’ve ever read.
A fantastic tour de force through industrial history to the present day, with many delightful insights into the ideas that drove us to ever higher degrees of precision in everything from cannons to atomic clocks, and much more.
All is explained in as much detail as needed - but no more - and in a delightful and playful, almost musical, prose.
Very much recommended.
Michael Vernon
Apr 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
As an engineering student, elements of this book really resonated with me. I especially enjoyed the discussion of early precision, and how our understanding and drive has changed over time. The final chapter, exploring how imprecise things contain their own value and beauty really opened my eyes. I think it is important to remember that precision is not the be all and end all.
Aug 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating book, beautifully written by Winchester. It gives us a chronology of how ideas about precision changed the world and impacts society. Each chapter, precision becomes more and more precise, and he ties it together in the last third of the book. The book isn’t too long and much of the movement of the book was based on his fascination with all things precise.
yvonne Calder
Oct 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Simon provides readable definitions of key concepts that distinquish modern expectations of manufacture compared to pre modern industry like precision accuracy and interchangeablity. this book is a very readable account of inventions that created this change in expectation. Each chapter whilst densely written ended with a yearning for the next installment.
Lee Belbin
Jun 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
If your even slightly interested in engineering and it's history, this is a great read. As usual, Winchester writes clearly, entertains and educates. This is another book that I think should be mandatory for 13 year olds - to give them some idea of the universe and of man's place in it.
Cromm Krommlach
Dec 18, 2018 rated it liked it

interesting and frequently captivating.

Rambling about personal life - sorry but this is just word-count filler and could be replaced by more of the interesting technical explanations and history.
Mark Nichols
Apr 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: other-nonfiction
A very interesting and engaging read, a spectacular expose into how we became gradually more and more able to fine-tune the dimensions and strength of manufacturing. Thoroughly enjoyable, well-researched and entertaining while also informative.
Jan 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Another great book. Simon Winchester writes in an engaging and interesting way about the past. This one was no exception a great account of the rise of the concept and practice of precision engineering. Very entertaining and gripping. This was my secret santa gift for 2018, thank you Sophie!
Terry Sampson
Dec 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating read.

Thoroughly enjoyed this book. Well written and brought a pretty confusing subject to light (or at least to me). Great stuff.
Michael Hillman
Nov 04, 2018 rated it liked it
The story of advanced engineering through the past few 100 years.
Adolf Van
Nov 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A very interesting read from our first tool makers to our micro processors. Full of anecdotes of how small errors can have giant complications.
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Simon Winchester, OBE, is a British writer, journalist and broadcaster who resides in the United States. Through his career at The Guardian, Winchester covered numerous significant events including Bloody Sunday and the Watergate Scandal. As an author, Simon Winchester has written or contributed to over a dozen nonfiction books and authored one novel, and his articles appear in several travel publ ...more