Book Review: The Pencil Perfect by Caroline Weaver

It might sound odd, but when first opening The Pencil Perfect: The Untold Story of a Cultural Icon by Caroline Weaver, the detail that immediately struck me was the thickness of the book’s paper stock. These days, every reader has become accustomed to cheap, thin paper, but it seems to me that a bit of thoughtfulness and care was put into the literal pages of The Pencil Perfect. And that thoughtfulness and care is likely a reflection of Weaver’s devotion to the subject matter. After all, it’s impossible to finish this book without being impressed by Weaver’s passion for and fascination with the humble pencil.

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Much of The Pencil Perfect is a history lesson. Weaver traces the origin of the wood-cased pencil from the discovery of graphite (and its first use as a writing instrument) to its eventual industrialization. As Weaver points out, much of this history is unwritten, but she has done a wonderful job of following it regardless. She’s managed to fill this book with amusing stories, great illustrations (by Oriana Fenwick), light technical info, some personal anecdotes, and even a “How to Start a Pencil Collection” guide. It’s a short book, yet it manages to pack in quite a lot.

That’s not to say that the book itself perfect. A handful of typos worked their way into this first printing, and I wasn’t a fan of Weaver’s use of in-text notes. These notes have a tendency to break up the flow of the chapters in a way that footnotes typically do not. However, I can agree to labeling these criticisms as nit-picks.

So, if you’ve ever wondered about the technological or culture history of the pencil, an object that everyone has likely used thousands of times throughout their life, then The Pencil Perfect is a worthwhile purchase. But be warned: though the pencil isn’t typically an object which attracts much devotion, Weaver’s enthusiasm can be contagious.


P.S. I also enjoyed the little Field Notes Easter egg.

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