The Tinkerers: The Amateurs, DIYers, and Inventors Who Make America Great

Alec Foege. Basic, $26.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-465-00923-7

Prompted by his experience repairing a broken smartphone, journalist Foege (Right of the Dial) investigates the tradition of tinkering: a type of free-form technical exploration that is fundamentally different from goal-oriented invention or corporate R&D. Foege argues that tinkering is particular to American society, sometimes produces revolutionary innovations, and has recently become more difficult as manufactured products become harder for consumers to modify, and institutional research becomes more centralized and tightly controlled. Notable tinkerers, Foege suggests, include the founding fathers, Thomas Edison, and modern icons of invention like Dean Kamen. Though these stories are mostly positive, Foege notes that for the financial industry, the tinkering mindset may have exacerbated the 2008 financial downturn by creating complex derivatives that weren’t well understood. In the book’s most thought-provoking sections, Foege considers the relationship between individual and collaborative tinkering, and how parents, schools, investors, and societies can foster the necessary mixture of curiosity, confidence, and opportunity. Although its depth is limited, this anecdotal exploration will be appreciated by readers interested in the quirky origins of technological advancement, and may inspire support for the next generation of unpredictable, revolutionary innovators. Agent: Paul Bresnick, Paul Bresnick Literary Agency. (Jan.)