Monday, July 21, 2008

Books I Love

A reader emailed me with wonderfully kind words about my blog and to ask for recommendations of books that I’ve found useful or inspirational. I appreciate that so much. Ever eager to get an idea for a blog post, I thought I’d take the opportunity to write about a few books that I’ve been reading and/or thinking about reading. For some suggestions on woodworking books, check out my post about getting started -- or rather, about how I got started -- in woodworking. There are lots of great instructional books out there, but the three books I want to discuss now are sort of tangentially related to woodworking.

I love reading about inventions, discoveries and innovations. I also love to learn about the evolution of modern things and processes. One of my favorite recent reads is Masterworks of Technology: the Story of Creative Engineering, Architecture and Design by E.E. Lewis. My wife gave me this book several years ago and I didn’t get around to reading it. Then after a trip to France in which I made a fool of myself ogling the arches at Notre Dame, I wanted to read more about the arch and its history. Masterworks of Technology discusses, chapter by chapter, several major technological innovations and what they have to say about the state of modern design and engineering. The arch is examined in great detail, along with such topics as the wagon wheel, steam power, the Roman baths and shipbuilding. One of the most fascinating chapters is about drafting and how modern engineering came about largely along with the development of new methods for visualization. The idea is that drawing in itself leads to innovation because it allows you to develop a concept without having to build every single version. I love this kind of stuff. (Yes, I've signed up for the Amazon feature that gives me a commission on book referrals -- every little bit helps.)

Another book I’d put in this collection is The Hand: How its Use Shapes the Brain, Language and Human Culture by Frank Wilson. It’s a fascinating look at how the development of the human hand caused the brain to develop along with it -- not the reverse. Woodworkers and all kinds of craftspeople understand it intuitively, but the book even talks about how the mind turns tools (from small ones like chisels to huge ones like backhoes) into extensions of the hand.

The other book is one that I haven’t read yet. I found out about it on the Greenjeans blog, which is the blog presence for Greenjeans, a great design store in Brooklyn. I’ve read the reviews and I’m dying to get it. The Craftsman by Richard Sennett examines the concept of craftsmanship in terms of history, politics, culture and philosophy. It makes me think about breaking open my Marx books from college and reading about the alienated worker! I’ve always been fascinated by the interplay of work and art, form and function, skill and value and labor.

I hope you find these books interesting. Happy reading! And thinking. And working.


Ted Wong said...

You'd probably find David Pye's writings up your ally too. "The Nature of Workmanship" discusses the meaning of craft and puts it in a philosophical as well as historical context. I must read must have book for all aspiring craft persons

Dorset Custom Furniture said...

Imagine my surprise when I went to post a favorite book here,'The Nature & Aesthetics of Design' by David Pye, to find that Ted Wong has posted another favorite of mine by the same author. While they are both worthy additions to your library, if you're tight for cash, I'm sure both the books are available through your local interlibrary loan system for free.
Try em before you buy em.