Tuesday, August 31, 2004


"Although the great Gothic cathedrals had been erected, the Roman arch remained the norm for stone bridges. Although Stonehenge and the pyramids had been standing for millennia as monuments to mechanical advantage, Galileo was just asking anew questions that the Peripatetic philosophers had raised but not fully answered. By the end of the seventeenth century, not only would Newton and Galileo have laid the foundations for modern science and engineering, but the lead pencil would achieve its present form." -- The Pencil, Henry Petroski.

Can you, too, detect traces of a 'more importantly' after that 'but'?

[The Pencil, by Henry Petroski (Knopf, 1989). Makes a case for the importance of its subject by parallelism -- the history of pencil development is a model for the history of engineering -- rather than by claiming that pencils changed the world or by attempting a big narrative arc. Which is admirable. But it reads at some points like a graduate thesis and at others like a poor translation of Lucretius.]

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