Garfield (Timekeepers: How the World Became Obsessed with Time, 2018, etc.) turns his attention to models and miniatures and other small things that grab and reward our attention.
“At its simplest, the miniature shows us how to see, learn and appreciate more with less,” concludes the author, following a tour of the world of miniatures that has encompassed model railroads (Rod Stewart and Neil Young are enthusiasts), model boats (including slave ships, which somehow magnify the horror), model houses, and even miniature towns and cities. The size and scale are less important than the relationship of standing for something bigger, so the author also discusses hotels on the Las Vegas strip, including the Bellagio, the Venetian, and Paris. “The more one speaks to those who have adopted Vegas as their home,” he writes, “the more one hears talk of Europe as the phantom and Vegas as the real deal.” Garfield begins and ends with the Eiffel Tower—not because of its impressive architecture or the perspective on the city it affords but because “the opening of the tower marked the birth of the mass-consumed souvenir and the dawn of the factory-made scale model.” Consequently, others were inspired to build their own, including one constructed of 11,000 toothpicks that took approximately 300 hours to build. As much history as the author provides, he seems even more interested in human psychology: Why would someone spend so much time and effort to construct something that is ultimately without purpose, and why would others flock to see it? Garfield devotes a lot of attention to the ideal of order in a world of chaos while recognizing that the obsession can seem insane. Yet, as he writes of a man who has devoted much of his life to constructing a fleet of matchstick ships, “his dinner guests scoff that his work is pointless, but he’s happier in his world than they may ever be in theirs.”
In other words, it takes all kinds. Another entertaining book from Garfield.