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Exactly: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  3,565 ratings  ·  491 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 (first published May 8th 2018)
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Average rating 4.13  · 
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Start your review of Exactly: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World
Will Byrnes
Before the imprecision of the natural world, all will falter, none shall survive—no matter how precise.
But we will certainly give it our best shot.

“Where did we come from?” is not only a religious question. It is also question of history. Simon Winchester is always a most welcome Virgil escorting us through the circles of historical knowledge, illuminating the unknown, or only slightly suspected, with the light of his explorer’s torch. We have trailed him on some of his many prior journeys
Jun 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Simon Winchester and I usually make a good pair. I like his topics and his narrative style. Truth be told, if I had real writer’s talent, I would love to have the freedom to roam the world writing about the fascinating things that our world contains and that people do. To that extent, I envy the author.

Here, Winchester is discussing a matter dear to his heart, “how precision engineers created the modern world.” This is so because Winchester’s own father was one of this group.
Words that are key t
Algernon (Darth Anyan)
Jan 17, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2020

The aim of science is not to open the door to infinite wisdom, but to set a limit to infinite error.

Fine quotation from Bertold Brecht to set the mood for a popular science tome. I really came with high hopes to this history of precision work, but I walked out with (mostly) empty hands. I would have been more informed on the subject by browsing wikipedia for a couple of hours than by reading this rambling and often off-topic attempt by Simon Winchester. This is my first read from his output, b
Peter Tillman
Another polished performance by the old pro. If you like stories of heroic engineers (and some not so heroic), and how our technical civilization has developed since the early Days of Steam, you will have fun with this. He has something fresh to say about even topics I know pretty well, and I learned a lot about the early days of satellite navigation, and how the Age of Silicon is likely to reach its limits soon. It's a pretty quick and easy read; he lost me only with a superfluous trip to Japan ...more
Robert Irish
I should probably give this a rating of 3, but ...
There is ample historical research that makes this book. Winchester can weave a narrative and a story out of the various pieces of his story and kind of hold them together. Specific stories are excellent.
However, the book could have been about 30% shorter. Winchester becomes tedious with his over-interest in too much detail. Also, he is quite tedious in his personal insertions into the story--I don't care that he collected stamps and had a magni
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
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 a bit rushed to me. 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
Aaron Calkins
Jun 23, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
This book started off great, but I oddly found it later to be rather rambling. After the first few chapters, the author seem to be unable to decide whether he wanted the book to be a first hand account of his own experiences or a brief overview of important events and people in science and engineering. I found the last two-thirds of the book to be very hit or miss.
Michael Burnam-Fink
The popular image of the industrial revolution is of titanic forces unleashed by steam, of dark satanic mills and choking clouds of smog. But the machines did not spring into being, fully formed. Behind our modern age lies an obsession with precision, with exactitude in measurement and cutting that a medieval master craftsman would find extremely odd, and which we find extremely normal.

Winchester chronicles 250 years of precision engineering, starting with John "Iron-Mad" Wilkinson, a cannon ma
5 Stars for The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created The Modern World (audiobook) by Simon Winchester read by the author. This is a must read for anybody that’s interested in engineering. Simon Winchester does an amazing job bringing this topic to life. I also really enjoy his narration.
Erik Graff
Sep 08, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: history of science/technology fans
Recommended to Erik by: Kelly Kingdon
Shelves: sciences
Dad was an electrical engineer with the heating and controls division of Honeywell. He'd wired the cottage in Michigan himself, done his own car maintenance and repairs and helped others with theirs, maintained a shop of sorts in our basement, building bicycles from parts found in the alley and just generally tinkering as a means of relaxation. If he didn't know how to fix something, he'd get a book and learn how. I was quite different, much to his chagrin. I read this history of precision engin ...more
David Mitchell
Jul 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
All this precision and then... there's me with: "lefty loosey righty tighty". ...more
This just wasn't for me. I've accepted the fact that I'm not interested in everything. ...more
Sep 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Reading this book could turn you into a nervous wreck. When, for example, you step on a plane and consider the incredibly hot temperatures of the turbine engines, so hot that the entire plane and all of its passengers would melt down into a molten puddle, were it not for thousands of tiny cooling holes in the blades. Any one of which, even infinitesimally out of sync, would mean disaster. Fortunately, we don’t think of such matters, we just take for granted that thousands of intricate parts will ...more
Marty Fried
Mar 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
This book was surprisingly good, to me. To someone who is non-technical and not interested in the technical history of precision machinery, it might be mostly boring. There is probably something here for everyone, though, such as the story of the Hubble telescope and its rescue from total failure after being launched into orbit.

The story starts out with the author recounting an experience when he was young, and his father brought out a heavy oak box with a brass tag on the outside. Inside were
John Behle
Aug 19, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I like Simon Winchester's works. He narrated this audio CD, as only the author of the work can. I enjoyed his research, prose and velvet hammer like reading during August 2018.

“The Perfectionists” reels the reader in, making us think more deeply about our everyday lives, and the hardware that makes it possible. The science, the drive, the sheer sweat and toil of a few noted and countless forgotten people that have fashioned this successful society makes for an easy-to-relate-to journey.

One less
Lori L (She Treads Softly)
The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World by Simon Winchester is a very highly recommended examination of the history, science, and work of precision engineers along with biographical sketches of some of the influential engineers that helped develop technology to take us from the Industrial Age to the Digital Age.

The early attention to precision, accuracy, and degrees of tolerance ushered in the the Industrial Revolution, Scientific Revolution, and the Technological Re
Mar 10, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The topic - precision engineering - isn’t something that immediately draws me in. But having read Winchester’s books before, I know them to be well-written and thoroughly researched. And when I listened to the sample of the first pages, which he reads, I was drawn in to the story because he began with how his father used to work as an engineer in a factory and one day brought home some machined metal tiles called gauge blocks used for measuring things. And I liked how Winchester talked fondly ab ...more
This is one of my favourite kinds of books: a history book that takes me on a fun multi-story journey through time and space. In this case, measuring them both with increasing precision as we go along. Here we learn a lot about the importance of precision while meeting a host of interesting perfectionists along the way.

This is history and science in the most pleasing of mixtures. Mr. Winchester doesn’t overload us with endless facts and figures, as if he were presenting his results for peer revi
Oct 19, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Fascinating! I never really thought about a concept like precision having a history but it does and a very interesting one it is. There is a lot of science here particularly as you get to the latter end of the book and some of it went rather over my head, but I still enjoyed the journey.
Aaron Slegers
Dec 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A 5 star above all other 5 star ratings. This book has entered my “Mt Rushmore” of favorite books. It was so incredibly enjoyable and insightful.
James Giammona
Overall, I learned a lot about many of the important figures in the history of increasing manufacturing precision. I found the early stories from the 1800 and 1900s from cannon boring to steam engines, the creation of the first precise machine tools and the construction of automobiles to be fascinating! I also liked learning more about jet engines and turbines.

However, I was unsatisfied with the brevity and lack of depth that some of these topics were explored with. I was hoping for WAY more de
Mar 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
I won a free advanced copy of this book through Goodreads giveaways.

As someone who knows basically nothing about engineering it comes as a bit of a surprise that I enjoyed this book as much as I did. I never felt it got bogged down into too much detail of engineering itself, rather, the book shows the history of engineering, specifically, precision engineering. From humble beginnings to the quite absurd present computing technology, this books shows the growth of precision and what it has meant
Oct 12, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Bottom Line first: Simon Winchester’s The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World is a sometimes-exciting survey history of the people who made the machines that make our tools and technology possible. This is my fourth book by Winchester and while I now realize he has about a shelf of titles in print I can speak to all I have read as interesting titles specializing in the nooks of history and biography where many of us might not think to look. The Perfectionists is surv ...more
Ed Erwin
Mar 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, nonfiction
Lots of interesting information about why precision is necessary and how it is achieved, at more and more precise levels. Many of the technologies were developed to support military applications, starting with cannons, pulley blocks for sailing ships, and moving on to guns with interchangeable parts and later GPS systems. Other topics include steam engines, locks, cars, jets, cameras, telescopes and clocks.

Discussion of the Hubble telescope and a 2010 jet crash were particularly interesting.

Jul 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, audio
Truly outstanding!

Read by the author in his clear and authoritative English-accented voice, Winchester explains in amazingly interesting detail the progress made, using better and better measuring devices, towards more perfect engineering.

Every chapter begins with a story that draws you in to the subject. The history of various aspects of manufacturing and engineering for things like block and tackle, autos, the jet engine, computers, and other scientific equipment is quite enlightening.

Sep 20, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nearly loses it in the final couple of chapters but it's informative and interesting enough before then to carry, and in truth the microchip and Hubble are just inherently less magical than the stories of amateur enthusiasts creating miracles in sheds that much of the early reading is. Finishes on a high with the story of the metric system too. You can never go wrong with a tale of the French and science - equal parts genius, lunacy and childish obnoxiousness.

And as stupid as it is I am never go
Jan 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
The book exhibits a grand collection of human's pursuit of precision on various scale. I especially enjoyed reading the afterwords, and came to a surprising realisation that all units of measurements (length, mass, temperature etc.) depend on time, and perfecting the accuracy of a second is yet an example of human's relentless pursuit of precision.

The book however is a big hard to read for me, with a lot of technical words and very long sentence.
Adam Merrifield
As a former machinist and metrologist and someone who is obsessed with precision, this book was absolutely up my alley. From the intro, where I knew exactly what his father had brought home and rung together, to the history of precision, to measurement by quantum standard, I completely geeked out on The Perfectionists. I will likely return to this book couple more times in the future.
I listened to this on audiobook, narrated by the author, and I’m really glad I did. I would have enjoyed this no matter what, but this is clearly a topic that the author loved writing about, and the narration is suffused with that enthusiasm. As enthusiastic as a book about precision engineering can be, of course - it’s a stately, restrained enthusiasm.
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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

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