The Toothpick

Technology and Culture

Publisher: Vintage
A celebration culture and technology, as seen through the history of the humble yet ubiquitous toothpick, from the best-selling author of The Pencil.

From ancient Rome, where emperor Nero made his entrance into a banquet hall with a silver toothpick in his mouth, to nineteenth-century Boston, where Charles Forster, the father of the American wooden toothpick industry, ensured toothpicks appeared in every restaurant, the toothpick has been an omnipresent, yet often overlooked part of our daily lives. Here, with an engineer's eye for detail and a poet's flair for language, Henry Petroski takes us on an incredible tour of this most interesting invention. Along the way, he peers inside today's surprisingly secretive toothpick-manufacturing industry, and explores a treasure trove of the toothpick's unintended uses and perils, from sandwiches to martinis and beyond.

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Prologue

The plain wooden toothpick, it may be argued, is among the simplest of manufactured things. It consists of a single part, made of a single material, intended for a single purpose–from which it gets its simple name. It is also among the most convenient and ready of things. It can be used...
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PRAISE FOR

"Offers rare insights into principles of engineering and design."
The Washington Post Book World

“Delightful . . . Mr. Petroski combines historical narrative with technical expertise to compelling affect.”
New York Sun

"I'll never look at a toothpick in the same way."
—Jeri Krentz, The Charlotte Observer

“Petroski writes . . . with the observant eye of an engineer and the imaginative heart of a novelist.”
Los Angeles Times