An engineer recounts his many professional pursuits and philosophical peregrinations in this debut memoir.
Growing up in Britain, Quinn showed an early interest in mechanics. He loved working on engines with his father, first drove a vehicle when he was 12 years old, and enthusiastically received a motorcycle on his 16th birthday. He graduated from Erith Technical School in 1960 when he was 17, and would eventually become a successful engineer and design the Panavia Tornado engine—hence his nickname, “The White Tornado.” Even his hobbies seemed inspired by his mechanical bent—he was a motorsport competitor for 13 years and a hang glider for 2. But Quinn was also an avid Gilbert and Sullivan enthusiast, and for years belonged to an amateur club that performed their works. The author’s remembrance is an unusually impersonal one—the bulk of it is devoted to a discussion of his engineering projects conveyed in forbiddingly technical language likely to confuse all but trained professionals in his field. Quinn explains his views on a wide range of topics—memory, evolution, Brexit, nuclear disarmament—and includes a proposal for a new British constitution as well as suggestions he made to the Olympic Games Organization. He also supplies a philosophical manifesto of his humanist ideals, which boil down to a commitment to secular rationality. The book can be delightfully quirky—at one point, he guilelessly asks the reader, “Incidentally, have you ever worked out how quick the reactions of pigeons and other formation flying birds are?” But he has remarkably little to say about his personal life; for example, his wife of over 40 years is mentioned in passing, but he presents readers with the square root of three to 5,010 digits (it goes on for pages). Apparently a portent of what’s to come, Quinn uses his curriculum vitae as the introductory chapter. The author is an impressively intelligent man, but this recollection reads like a private record designed for his own perusal.
A charmingly eccentric but meandering autobiography.