The Toothpick

The Toothpick

Technology and Culture

Book - 2007
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Random House, Inc.
Like The Pencil, Henry Petroski’s The Toothpick is a celebration of a humble yet elegant device. As old as mankind and as universal as eating, this useful and ubiquitous tool finally gets its due in this wide-ranging and compulsively readable book. Here is the unexpected story of the simplest of implements—whether made of grass, gold, quill, or wood—a story of engineering and design, of culture and class, and a lesson in how to discover the extraordinary in the ordinary.

Petroski takes us back to ancient Rome, where the emperor Nero makes his entrance into a banquet hall with a silver toothpick in his mouth; and to a more recent time in Spain, where a young señorita uses the delicately pointed instrument to protect her virtue from someone trying to steal a kiss. He introduces us to Charles Forster, a nineteenth-century Bostonian and father of the American toothpick industry, who hires Harvard students to demand toothpicks in area restaurants—thereby making their availability in eating establishments as expected as condiments.

And Petroski takes us inside the surprisingly secretive toothpick-manufacturing industry, in which one small town’s factories can turn out 200 million wooden toothpicks a day using methods that, except for computer controls, haven’t changed much in almost 150 years. He also explores a treasure trove of the toothpick’s unintended uses and perils, from sandwiches to martinis and beyond.

With an engineer’s eye for detail and a poet’s flair for language, Petroski has earned his reputation as a writer who explains our world—from the tallest buildings to the lowliest toothpick—to us.

Baker & Taylor
Celebrating the extraordinary aspects of the simplest of implements, a fascinating and quirky history of the toothpick ranges from ancient Rome to the present day, examining the ubiquitous item in its various forms and designs, its colorful applications through time, and the modern toothpick manufacturing industry. 35,000 first printing.

Publisher: New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2007
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9780307266361
Branch Call Number: 674.88 P4489t 2007
Characteristics: xii, 443 p. : ill. ; 25 cm


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Apr 25, 2017

The technology of making toothpicks is pretty cool, but the chapters on the manners of toothpick use get a little repetitive.

Jan 28, 2014

The Toothpick: Technology and Culture by Henry Petroski. An interesting and intriguing title: imagine technology and the toothpick in the same book. I was intrigued. Intrigued enough to order up the book. Abut what a disappointment. After a quick perusal of the table of contents and a respectful read of the first chapter I just knew that I wouldn’t be able to deal with over 400 pages about toothpicks. A sample of the more riveting chapter titles: The Nasty Instrument; Trade Secrets and Closed Doors and Woodpeckers and Other Dispensers. This might hold your interest but its not enough for me. Sorry.


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