The Tinkerers: The Amateurs, Diyers, and Inventors Who Make America Great (Hardcover)

The Amateurs, Diyers, and Inventors Who Make America Great

By Alec Foege

Basic Books, 9780465009237, 224pp.

Publication Date: January 1, 2013



From its earliest years, the United States was a nation of tinkerers: men and women who looked at the world around them and were able to create something genuinely new from what they saw. Guided by their innate curiosity, a desire to know how things work, and a belief that anything can be improved, amateurs and professionals from Benjamin Franklin to Thomas Edison came up with the inventions that laid the foundations for America's economic dominance. Recently, Americans have come to question whether our tinkering spirit has survived the pressures of ruthless corporate organization and bottom-line driven caution. But as Alec Foege shows in The Tinkerers, reports of tinkering's death have been greatly exaggerated.

Through the stories of great tinkerers and inventions past and present, Foege documents how Franklin and Edison's modern-day heirs do not allow our cultural obsessions with efficiency and conformity to interfere with their passion and creativity. Tinkering has been the guiding force behind both major corporate-sponsored innovations such as the personal computer and Ethernet, and smaller scale inventions with great potential, such as a machine that can make low-cost eyeglass lenses for people in impoverished countries and a device that uses lasers to shoot malarial mosquitoes out of the sky. Some tinkerers attended the finest engineering schools in the world; some had no formal training in their chosen fields. Some see themselves as solo artists; others emphasize the importance of working in teams. What binds them together is an ability to subvert the old order, to see fresh potential in existing technologies, and to apply technical know-how to the problems of their day.

As anyone who has feared voiding a warranty knows, the complexity of modern systems can be needlessly intimidating. Despite this, tinkerers can - and do - come from anywhere, whether it's the R&D lab of a major corporation, a hobbyist's garage, or a summer camp for budding engineers. Through a lively retelling of recent history and captivating interviews with today's most creative innovators, Foege reveals how the tinkering tradition remains, in new and unexpected forms, at the heart of American society and culture.

About the Author

Alec Foege is the author of Right of the Dial: The Rise of Clear Channel and the Fall of Commercial Radio, Confusion Is Next: The Sonic Youth Story, and The Empire God Built: Inside Pat Robertson's Media Machine. A former Rolling Stone contributing editor and People magazine senior writer, Foege lives in Connecticut.

Praise For The Tinkerers: The Amateurs, Diyers, and Inventors Who Make America Great

A celebratory exploration of American tinkerers and the spirit of innovation that moves them....[a] lucid meditation on innovation.[Foege] effectively argues that real tinkerers need their own space and the freedom to fail.tinkering remains a force to be reckoned with in the 21st century.laudatory history mixed with a provocative treatise on creating neat new things.”-Kirkus Reviews

Once you acquire the tinkerer’s mindset, as described in Alec Foege’s engrossing book, the world becomes a gigantic spare parts bin, inviting you to become a creative participant, rather than a passive consumer, in your manufactured environment.”
Mark Frauenfelder, Editor-in-Chief, MAKE

Tired of all the over-hyped, same-sounding books on innovation’? Here’s a smart, fresh, fascinating take on why tinkering’ is such a deep part of American enterpriseand how it is fundamental to shaping our economic future.”
Alan M. Webber, co-founder, Fast Company magazine

For anyone who likes to question, pull things apart, and put them back together, this book is for you!”
Tiffany Shlain, Filmmaker & Founder of the Webby Awards

Making and hacking is being completely obsessed with a puzzle that shares its solution with everyone once it's solved. The Tinkerers explains that "Making" isn't something you just "do," it's a mindset. You look at the same world as everyone else, filled with the same things, things that are assumed to do just one thing or what we're told they should dobut you constantly ask yourself what else can I make this thing do?’”
-Limor "Ladyada" Fried, Founder & Engineer, Adafruit Industries