Precision is so essential a component of contemporary human life and existence that we seldom stop to think about it. Simon Winchester's The Perfectionists examines the relatively recent development of the notion of precision?the people who developed it and the ways in which it has shaped the modern world?and the challenges posed and losses risked by our veneration and pursuit of increasingly precise tools and methods.
The history of precision as a concept and in practice begins in England with its originators: John Wilkinson, Henry Maudslay, Joseph Bramah, Jesse Ramsden, and Joseph Whitworth. It was Thomas Jefferson who first exported their discoveries to the fledgling United States, setting the nation on its course to become a manufacturing titan. At the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, standards of measurement were established, giving way to the development of machine tools?machines that make machines. Eventually, the application of precision tools and methods in the development of guns, glass, mirrors, lenses, and cameras gave way to further advancements, including gene splicing, microchips, and the Hadron Collider.The fundamental questions at the heart of The Perfectionists are these: Why is precision important? Has the pursuit of the ultraprecise in so many facets of human life blinded us to other things of equal value, such as an appreciation for the age-old traditions of craftsmanship, art, and high culture? Are we missing something that reflects the world as it is, rather than the world as we think we would wish it to be?
Simon Winchester is the acclaimed author of many books, including The Professor and the Madman, The Men Who United the States, The Map That Changed the World, The Man Who Loved China, A Crack in the Edge of the World, and Krakatoa, all of which were New York Times bestsellers and appeared on numerous best and notable lists. In 2006, Winchester was made an officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Her Majesty the Queen. He resides in western Massachusetts.