The Amateurs, DIYers, and Inventors Who Make America Great
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A celebratory exploration of American tinkerers and the spirit of innovation that moves them.

Thomas Edison may be the most famous tinkerer of all, but as former Rolling Stone and People contributor Foege (Right of the Dial: The Rise of Clear Channel and the Fall of Commercial Radio, 2008, etc.) points out in this lucid meditation on innovation, invention alone is a far different thing from tinkering. Tinkerers grab things that already exist and find clever ways of making them better or putting them to uses never before imagined. To illustrate his point, the author looks at great American tinkerers and finds that the compulsion to tweak existing technologies in unique and exciting ways is a hallmark of the American experience. Tinkering today, however, does have its challenges. For one thing, technology is a lot more complex than it was in Benjamin Franklin’s day. Most people simply do not have the technical knowledge necessary to access the computerized world of virtual tinkering that predominates much of modern-day engineering. That wasn't the case in the past, when "gear heads" had far more tangible materials with which to work. Then there's the problem of the corporate state. Foege finds that it is choking truly creative inspiration in favor of immediate financial gains, and he effectively argues that real tinkerers need their own space and the freedom to fail. Coming up short is how tinkerers ultimately succeed. However, tinkering alone isn't a virtue; there's a dark side as well. In addition to Edison, readers also learn about the not-so-great men (and women) found tinkering in places like the military industrial complex and financial services industry - and how they almost brought the nation to its knees with their harebrained ideas. Still, tinkering remains a force to be reckoned with in the 21st century.

Mostly laudatory history mixed with a provocative treatise on creating neat new things.

Pub Date: Jan. 2nd, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-465-00923-7
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 2012


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