The Evolution of Useful Things

How Everyday Artifacts-From Forks and Pins to Paper Clips and Zippers-Came to be as They are.

by Henry Petroski

   How did the table fork acquire a fourth tine?  What advantage does the Phillips-head screw have over its single-grooved predecessor? Why does the paper clip look the way it does? What makes Scotch tape Scotch?

   In this delightful book Henry, Petroski takes a microscopic look at artifacts that most of us count on but rarely contemplate, including such icons of the everyday as pins, Post-its, and fast-food "clamshell" containers.  At the same time, he offers a convincing new theory of technological innovation as a response to the perceived failures of existing products—suggesting that irritation, and not necessity, is the mother of invention.

  • Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group; December 2010
  • ISBN: 9780307773050
  • Read online, or download in secure ePub format
  • Title: The Evolution of Useful Things
  • Author: Henry Petroski
  • Imprint: Vintage

In The Press

"A celebration of inventiveness...By cataloging the clutter of our desks, closets, and workbenches, and giving them a human history, Petroski makes us feel more at home in our homes."- Newsweek

"Petroski is a valuable resource—an engineer who examines the simplest, most ubiquitous tools in our live with an appraising eye."- Washington Post Book World

"Mr. Petroski's case histories delightfully illustrate his thesis... You never know when you will turn a page and find some tiny corner of your mind enlightened."- The New York Times

"Petroski has an eye for the mundane that distracts and delights... [His] wealth of literary and cultural references runs from Aristotle... to Russell Baker... The book has substance."- Newsday

About The Author

Henry Petroski is the Aleksandar S. Vesic Professor of Civil Engineering and a professor of history at Duke University. The author of more than a dozen previous books, he lives in Durham, North Carolina, and Arrowsic, Maine.