The Tinkerers

The Amateurs, DIYers, and Inventors Who Make America Great

Regular Price $30

Regular Price $38 CAD

Regular Price $30

Regular Price $38 CAD

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On Sale

Jan 1, 2013

Page Count

224 Pages




From its earliest years, the United States was a nation of tinkerers: men and women who looked at the world around them and were able to create something genuinely new from what they saw. Guided by their innate curiosity, a desire to know how things work, and a belief that anything can be improved, amateurs and professionals from Benjamin Franklin to Thomas Edison came up with the inventions that laid the foundations for America’s economic dominance. Recently, Americans have come to question whether our tinkering spirit has survived the pressures of ruthless corporate organization and bottom-line driven caution. But as Alec Foege shows in The Tinkerers, reports of tinkering’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

Through the stories of great tinkerers and inventions past and present, Foege documents how Franklin and Edison’s modern-day heirs do not allow our cultural obsessions with efficiency and conformity to interfere with their passion and creativity. Tinkering has been the guiding force behind both major corporate-sponsored innovations such as the personal computer and Ethernet, and smaller scale inventions with great potential, such as a machine that can make low-cost eyeglass lenses for people in impoverished countries and a device that uses lasers to shoot malarial mosquitoes out of the sky. Some tinkerers attended the finest engineering schools in the world; some had no formal training in their chosen fields. Some see themselves as solo artists; others emphasize the importance of working in teams. What binds them together is an ability to subvert the old order, to see fresh potential in existing technologies, and to apply technical know-how to the problems of their day.

As anyone who has feared voiding a warranty knows, the complexity of modern systems can be needlessly intimidating. Despite this, tinkerers can — and do — come from anywhere, whether it’s the R&D lab of a major corporation, a hobbyist’s garage, or a summer camp for budding engineers. Through a lively retelling of recent history and captivating interviews with today’s most creative innovators, Foege reveals how the tinkering tradition remains, in new and unexpected forms, at the heart of American society and culture.

What's Inside

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“A celebratory exploration of American tinkerers and the spirit of innovation that moves them....[a] lucid meditation on innovation.... [Foege] effectively argues that real tinkerers need their own space and the freedom to fail.... Tinkering remains a force to be reckoned with in the 21st century.... Laudatory history mixed with a provocative treatise on creating neat new things.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Once you acquire the tinkerer's mindset, as described in Alec Foege's engrossing book, the world becomes a gigantic spare parts bin, inviting you to become a creative participant, rather than a passive consumer, in your manufactured environment.”
Mark Frauenfelder, Editor-in-Chief, MAKE

“Tired of all the over-hyped, same-sounding books on ‘innovation'? Here's a smart, fresh, fascinating take on why ‘tinkering' is such a deep part of American enterprise—and how it is fundamental to shaping our economic future.”
Alan M. Webber, co-founder, Fast Company magazine

“For anyone who likes to question, pull things apart, and put them back together, this book is for you!”
Tiffany Shlain, Filmmaker & Founder of the Webby Awards
“[A]n entertaining, easy-to-understand, engaging tale.... You can't help being fascinated by some of the details [Foege] uncovers.... The Tinkerers grabs your attention from page one, and doesn't let go until the end.”
—USA Today

“[Foege] shows us how tinkering remains, in new and unexpected forms, at the heart of American society and culture.”
—Boing Boing

The Tinkerers by Alec Foege is a highly worthwhile read on the extraordinary history, impact and revival of the American tinkerer spirit.”
—Book Kvetch

“An enthusiast's book about enthusiasts.... [A] kaleidoscopic view of the myriad forms innovation can take. Alec Foege's book is a useful contribution to understanding our era.”

“Foege still believes in tinkering, and so should we.”

“At a time when domestic manufacturing is in decline and the national mood is somewhat grim, Foege makes a case that a return to tinkering might show us the way forward.”
—New Yorker, Page-Turner blog

“An easily enjoyable read.”

Publishers Weekly
“Anyone who is interested in innovation in the U.S. today and the challenges to continued success in innovation will find [The Tinkerers] a worthwhile read.”
—Chemical & Engineering News

“[The Tinkerers] provides a fine and lively discourse on the art and finer science of ‘tinkering.'”
—Midwest Book Review

“[Foege hopes] to inspire people to incorporate more of the tinkering mindset into their everyday lives—and the lives of their children.”
—American Scientist

The Tinkerers is both tribute and rallying cry.... [The Tinkerers] is an intriguing look at America's clashing cultures of individualism, capitalism, and creativity, one that poses valuable questions.”
—San Francisco/Sacramento Book Review

“An easily read, entertaining and enlightening book about the prototypical American tinkerers whose curiosity and creativity have brightened all of our lives.”
—Post and Courier

“Alec Foege explores the United States' tinkering heritage and then follows this perpetually cutting-edge endeavor to present-day America showing the value of an age-old means of bringing new ideas to the marketplace.”
—Roanoke Times
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