Less a work of scholarship than an enthusiastic popular-science tour of technological marvels, and readers will love the...

THE PERFECTIONISTS

HOW PRECISION ENGINEERS CREATED THE MODERN WORLD

An ingenious argument that the dazzling advances that produced the scientific revolution, the industrial revolution, and the revolutions that followed owe their success to a single engineering element: precision.

Early on in this entertaining narrative, bestselling journalist and historian Winchester (Pacific: Silicon Chips and Surfboards, Coral Reefs and Atom Bombs, Brutal Dictators and Fading Empires, 2015), whose father “was for all of his working life a precision engineer,” points out that James Watt (1736-1819) invented a vastly improved steam engine, but John Wilkinson (1728-1808) made it work. Watt’s pistons generated enormous energy but moved inside handmade sheet metal cylinders that leaked profusely under the pressure. After years of frustration, he was rescued by Wilkinson, who had invented a machine that bored a precise hole through a solid block of iron. It had already revolutionized cannon manufacture, and it did the same for Watt’s steam engine. Human precision made the Rolls-Royce, which earned the reputation “for precision products made beyond consideration of price,” expensive, but engineering precision made the Model T cheap. An assembly line must stop if one mass-produced part doesn’t fit perfectly into the next, so Henry Ford spared no expense to ensure that it did. Winchester tells the story of a series of increasingly impressive inventions, usually introduced by a journalistic “hook” to engage readers—e.g., an account of an explosion aboard the world’s largest commercial airliner in 2010 precedes his history of the jet engine. In the final chapter, the author does not deny that something vital is lost when human craftsmanship bows before technical perfection, but it’s clear where his heart lies. He sought some answers in Japan, which displays “an aesthetic sensibility wherein asymmetry and roughness and impermanence are accorded every bit as much weight as are the exact, the immaculate, and the precise.”

Less a work of scholarship than an enthusiastic popular-science tour of technological marvels, and readers will love the ride.

Pub Date: May 8, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-265255-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2018

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics,...

HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE

A provocative analysis of the parallels between Donald Trump’s ascent and the fall of other democracies.

Following the last presidential election, Levitsky (Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America, 2003, etc.) and Ziblatt (Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy, 2017, etc.), both professors of government at Harvard, wrote an op-ed column titled, “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” The answer here is a resounding yes, though, as in that column, the authors underscore their belief that the crisis extends well beyond the power won by an outsider whom they consider a demagogue and a liar. “Donald Trump may have accelerated the process, but he didn’t cause it,” they write of the politics-as-warfare mentality. “The weakening of our democratic norms is rooted in extreme partisan polarization—one that extends beyond policy differences into an existential conflict over race and culture.” The authors fault the Republican establishment for failing to stand up to Trump, even if that meant electing his opponent, and they seem almost wistfully nostalgic for the days when power brokers in smoke-filled rooms kept candidacies restricted to a club whose members knew how to play by the rules. Those supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders might take as much issue with their prescriptions as Trump followers will. However, the comparisons they draw to how democratic populism paved the way toward tyranny in Peru, Venezuela, Chile, and elsewhere are chilling. Among the warning signs they highlight are the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as well as Trump’s demonization of political opponents, minorities, and the media. As disturbing as they find the dismantling of Democratic safeguards, Levitsky and Ziblatt suggest that “a broad opposition coalition would have important benefits,” though such a coalition would strike some as a move to the center, a return to politics as usual, and even a pragmatic betrayal of principles.

The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics, rather than in the consensus it is not likely to build.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6293-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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