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Publisher's Summary

SHORTLISTED FOR THE ROYAL SOCIETY SCIENCE BOOK PRIZE 2018 

Best-selling author Simon Winchester writes a magnificent history of the pioneering engineers who developed precision machinery to allow us to see as far as the moon and as close as the Higgs boson.

Precision is the key to everything. It is an integral, unchallenged and essential component of our modern social, mercantile, scientific, mechanical and intellectual landscapes. The items we value in our daily lives - a camera, a phone, a computer, a bicycle, a car, a dishwasher perhaps - all sport components that fit together with precision and operate with near perfection. We also assume that the more precise a device the better it is. And yet whilst we live lives peppered and larded with precision, we are not, when we come to think about it, entirely sure what precision is or what it means. How and when did it begin to build the modern world?

Simon Winchester seeks to answer these questions through stories of precision’s pioneers. Exactly takes us back to the origins of the Industrial Age, to Britain where he introduces the scientific minds that helped usher in modern production: John ‘Iron-Mad’ Wilkinson, Henry Maudslay, Joseph Bramah, Jesse Ramsden and Joseph Whitworth. Thomas Jefferson exported their discoveries to the United States as manufacturing developed in the early 20th century, with Britain’s Henry Royce developing the Rolls-Royce and Henry Ford mass producing cars, Hattori’s Seiko and Leica lenses, to today’s cutting-edge developments from Europe, Asia and North America.

As he introduces the minds and methods that have changed the modern world, Winchester explores fundamental questions. Why is precision important? What are the different tools we use to measure it? Who has invented and perfected it? Has the pursuit of the ultra-precise in so many facets of human life blinded us to other things of equal value, such as an appreciation for the age-old traditions of craftsmanship, art, and high culture? Are we missing something that reflects the world as it is rather than the world as we think we would wish it to be? And can the precise and the natural coexist in society?

©2018 Simon Winchester (P)2018 HarperCollins Publishers Limited

Critic Reviews

"An ingenious argument that the dazzling advances that produced the scientific revolution, the industrial revolution, and the revolutions that followed owe their success to a single engineering element: precision.... An enthusiastic popular-science tour of technological marvels...readers will love the ride." (Kirkus)

"Another gem from one of the world’s justly celebrated historians specializing in unusual and always fascinating subjects and people." (Booklist)

"Winchester’s latest is a rollicking work of pop science that entertains and informs." (Publishers Weekly)

What listeners say about Exactly

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A revelation and a delight

An engrossing tour of the quests for accuracy and perfection in engineering and it's impacts on Society. Ideal for both the Engineer and Non-Engineer. It's not a technical book but is rich with detail with the narration both lively and mellifluous. This was an entertaining and informative listening, and I'd imagine reading, experience. Destined to be another classic volume by Simon Winchester. I eagerly look forward to his next subject.

8 people found this helpful

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  • Ian
  • 18-11-2018

Captivating

You'd think by the title that this is going to be a dry, technical book. In fact it's quite the opposite. This is a fascinating tale, superbly written and wonderfully narrated. We live in a world where we take so much for granted and learning about how things we use every day evolved in every increasing precision and the amazing stories of the people who created them is just captivating. Immensely enjoyable. The final example of humanity's most precise instrument, the LIGO, which can measure the distance to the nearest star, 4.3 light years away to within the width of a human hair is just one example of the myriad of Oh Wow moments throughout this book. If you are curious about how the world and everything in it got to where we are today, read this book.

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Story well told

Learned a lot, old and new. Fascinating progression through the development of tolerances bringing us to today's precise world.

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Fascinating story of human inginuity

Read by author and great story of human development in manufacturing. It covers all manner of objects from cannon to muskets to the manufacturing of modern Intel chips. Listened non stop during a long car trip. Loved it.

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A Thurley enjoyable romp through history

first up I will add the proviso that I love the history of scientific achievement, so I was already positively disposed to the subject matter. I think Simon Winchester organisational of this book by orders of magnitude of procession was clever and works well. this book will appeal to anyone who likes engineering and science. the book contains fantasic narratives around each significant advancement in precision that made this book hard to stop listening to.

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A must read

A brilliantly written and well researched book. Winchester makes a possible tedious topic, a fascinating topic

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very interesting and well read

the authors passion for the topic shines through this book. I found it fascinating and engaging the whole way through.

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Great Book, and a fabulous performance

Being a mechanical engineer this book took me back through the great history of my profession and then onwards and upwards to the fantastic heights we have achieved today. The author, together with his accent and turn of phrase took me into the 19th century workshops quite literally. it really brought life to what is already a great history, far better than simply reading it on the page.

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Precisely brilliant

I didn’t anticipate a book about precision and its history to be so great. Winchester does an amazing job at drawing you in with great stories and my mind is now blown.

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Fantastic story and narration

loved it immensely. couldn't put it down so to speak. look forward to more from Simon

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  • Angus Black
  • 08-08-2018

Consumable Engineering. Excellent!

Satisfying when the author has the right speaking voice for his own body. Fascinating on both personal (anecdotal) and sweep of history levels. Well researched, nicely structured, well paced. I enjoyed this greatly - and furnished my mind in the process.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Alistair Kelman
  • 12-06-2018

A beautiful and empathetic clarity of expression

If ever there was a book which is better in its Audible version than in its printed prose this is it. Simon Winchester's love of language and engineering wafts out of this dulcet recording with every chapter providing a story arc which resonates in the mind. I have listened to "Exactly" while walking in Richmond Park, while riding on buses and trains and while resting in bed after a long day. It is one of those rare Audible books which you wish to listen to again and again - the prose becomes a kind of poetry; a sonnet singing the praises of precise engineering and how it has built the modern world. Much of this book is really new - since the author has pulled together threads from sources which have been classified as state secrets and commercial secrets, accident reports and annual reports. How was it that Rolls Royce nearly caused the death of over 450 people in an air disaster in Singapore? What are the lessons to be learned from this failure? What are the limits of precision? Capturing machine-processes in words is not easy. But the sonorous Winchester voice over his carefully selected words performs this task admirably. He uses many of the tricks of advocacy to get complex ideas across, describing the same thing three times but using subtly different phrasing and wording so that a composite three-dimensional image can be built up in the mind. This is a master communicator at his best - leaving a legacy in a recording which will be enjoyed for all time. Listen to it and enjoy it. You will never regret this purchase.

6 people found this helpful

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  • J. D. Barnell
  • 12-02-2020

Inaccurate...

Mr Winchester does himself no favours here, either blinded wilfully or otherwise by his love of metal/mechanics he ignores many first peoples remarkable and very precise use of some of the most difficult materials known, using only the most rudimentary tools. In the most challenging conditions creating calendars, solar clocks, colossal temples and walls of stone so closely fitted they have withstood 1000's of years of seismic activity..and still fit together so closely you cannot push a cigarette paper between them, let alone the inticate jewellery and art of ancient Egypt, the remarkable tiny gold pins from Englands own stoneage craftsmen , ancient hand cut gemstones of exquisite precision, the masons of cathedrals, in fact a plethora of subject matter is conspicuous by its absence. It is also to be noted that his dismissal of the Antikethera mechanism as neither precise nor accurate is frankly myopic, the wonder of this item is in it's very manufacture, the techniques needed and used centuries before the like would be seen again, as he himself says "the lettering chased in millimetre high clarity" - how do you do that without a precise tool? To be precise this story is not accurate.

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  • Glen Monks
  • 15-11-2018

Many enlightening stories building up a history

I found this book better than I had expected, as I had anticipated a long chronological history of incremental improvements in technology. Instead, this book tells stories of the history of engineering such as steam engines, pocket watches and the Hubble Space Telescope, with each story interesting in its own right and fitting neatly into the overall narrative of ever-increasing precision. The chapters, with names like "Precision 0.001" through to "Precision 0.000 000 000 000 000 000 000 001" (I literally took to counting on my fingers when he read the chapter headings) help give the listener a sense of where each story fits in the grand history. I'm a fairly technically and scientifically literate person, but I'd happily recommend this book to anyone who was willing to try. If you're not sure if your maths is up to it, I'll say that he never says "ten to the power of twelve" but instead "One with twelve zeros after it", and avoids scientific jargon as a professional technical writer should.

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  • Neil Stoker
  • 02-11-2018

Full of fascinating insights

Whilst occasionally I've struggled to explain the magic in this book to others, it's definitely there. The central theme is inspirational, but it's also the countless stories of the players big and small which are deftly worked into the larger narrative by Simon that keep this from being purely a technical outpouring. Having the author narrate the audiobook also adds a lot especially as he has brought in a few personal anecdotes.

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  • Yarper
  • 03-08-2020

Interesting stories, weirdly written.

As an engineer I was very interested in the stories but hated the choice of phrases and language used by the author. It sometimes felt the book was written with a contemptuous air for some of the engineering achievements.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Leon
  • 06-05-2020

I never knew THAT

A splendidly wriiten book, tastefully read. Opening up very intricate and highly technical topics in a style that is easily accessible to the uninformed mind. Briliantly done! This book is a rich source of understanding of the intracies of aparantlly mundane things. It offers numerous conversation topics and equips one with the right to exclaim in conversation: "Did you know that!?" .

1 person found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 04-09-2018

Brilliant!

Great thoroughly researched content spun together in a very coherent story that has you eagerly waiting for the next chapter to unravel.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Sally Margetts
  • 26-07-2018

usual excellence

l love the way Simon dances around the subjects , bringing all manor of information into the mix.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Jason Davidson
  • 01-07-2018

Fascinating stuff

A really fascinating, well researched account of how important accurate measurement has been throughout the ages. I could listen to the narrator, who is also the author, all day long he has such a soothing voice.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Natalia
  • 10-01-2021

poetic and deeply researched

there was a moment at the very beginning, when I wasn't sure whether this book is good for a lay person. it is very good, as it transpired soon. quite gripping stories of inventions and inventors, history and science beautifully woven together.

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