Excerpt from The Perfectionists by Simon Winchester, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Perfectionists

How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World

by Simon Winchester

The Perfectionists by Simon Winchester X
The Perfectionists by Simon Winchester
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    May 2018, 432 pages

    May 2019, 416 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Rory L. Aronsky
Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

Chapter 5
(TOLERANCE: 0.000 000 000 1)
The Irresistible Lure
of the Highway

So profound was the effect of the Model T Ford on America, so much did it change the nature of the nation ... its art, its music, its social structure ... its health and wealth and arrogant insularity, that Henry Ford who was responsible for it all must be seen as the most effective revolutionary ... —L. J. K. Setright, Drive On! (2003)

I was closing the trunk of a borrowed Rolls-Royce Silver Seraph one midwinter's day in early 1998 when I felt a sudden sharp sensation in my right index finger. I looked down: a drop of blood was bubbling up from a small nick—insignificant in itself, probably not even worth a Band-Aid. Yet, that some part of a brand-new Rolls-Royce motorcar had been sharp enough to inflict a cut—that did seem worthy of note, not least because the Silver Seraph had been deliberately designed to reinforce, maybe even to reestablish, the idea that in 1998, and despite all the competition, Rolls-Royce Motors still made the very best car in the world.

My co-driver and I checked, running our hands gently across the mirror-smooth surfaces of the rear of the car. There was no doubt this was a beautiful machine: deep blue, with thick wool rugs lining the floor of the trunk, special containers for umbrellas, all the chromium parts thick and solid and highly polished, the lights large and sturdily recessed, even the license-plate holder robust and weatherproof, as if built for a warship.

Except, running my hand along the lower limb of the license-plate holder, I found two tiny screws, and one of them, the right-hand one, seemed to be tilted at an angle such that its razor-sharp steel edge protruded by perhaps a fraction of a millimeter above the mirror-flat surface of the chromium. I ran my thumb across it. There was no doubt; this was the culprit: a simple screw that some apprentice had tried to turn into a hole, that had been ever so imprecisely bored at an angle, fractionally out of true.

For a machine so self-consciously promoted as the motoring world's finest example of precision engineering, and at a price of eye-watering unaffordability to most, this seemed scarcely credible, an unforgivable error, a black mark. My unease was confirmed a few weeks later when a motoring reviewer for one of the London newspapers described how he had taken a Seraph out for a test drive and, after parking it, found not only that could he not release the parking brake, but that the brake handle came off in his hand, its connecting cables having snapped off cleanly somewhere in the bowels of the machine. Clearly someone in the factory was not paying proper attention.

It therefore came as little surprise to me, though of great and shocked dismay to most everyone elsewhere in Britain, that within months, and quite coincidentally, the long-revered institution that had been Rolls-Royce Motors became effectively defunct, and was sold off to the German company Volkswagen.

The company that the world still knows by its hyphenated name, Rolls-Royce (though financial crises and corporate shenanigans of one kind or another have caused there to be all too many versions of the title) was famously founded in Manchester in May 1904. One year previously, in June 1903, and with much-less- remembered ceremony in Detroit, Michigan, the Ford Motor Company had been officially incorporated. Both companies were founded by dedicated, obsessive, oily-handed engineers, both men christened Henry, both born in modest circumstances and in the year 1863.

Once their respective ambitions had jelled, these two men turned out to have markedly different goals. Henry Royce was quite simply committed to building for the discerning few the finest motorcars in the world, no matter the difficulty and with no concern for cost. Henry Ford, on the other hand, was determined to make the world of personal motor transport available to the greatest number of people imaginable, at as low a cost as manufacturing would allow. To achieve their separate ambitions, Henry Royce would assemble a team of craftsmen to build his cars by hand, while Henry Ford would create his cars in immense numbers by, in due course, employing machines to help construct them.

From the book:The Perfectionists by Simon Winchester. Copyright © 2018 by Simon Winchester. Reprinted courtesy of Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Become a Member

Join BookBrowse today to start discovering exceptional books!

Find out more

Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Hello Beautiful
    Hello Beautiful
    by Ann Napolitano
    Ann Napolitano's much-anticipated Hello Beautiful pulls the reader into a warm, loving familial ...
  • Book Jacket: The West
    The West
    by Naoíse Mac Sweeney
    It's become common for history books and courses to reconsider the emphasis on "Western Civilization...
  • Book Jacket
    A Death in Denmark
    by Amulya Malladi
    Can a mystery novel be informative, intriguing and deeply comforting all at once? Amulya Malladi ...
  • Book Jacket
    Shrines of Gaiety
    by Kate Atkinson
    A few years ago, magazines ran pieces about how the 2020s were likely to be the 1920s all over again...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
The First Conspiracy
by Brad Meltzer & Josh Mensch
A remarkable and previously untold piece of American history—the secret plot to kill George Washington

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Hotel Cuba
    by Aaron Hamburger

    A stunning novel about two Russian Jewish sisters, desperate to get to the U.S. but trapped in the hedonistic world of 1920s Havana.

  • Book Jacket

    by Costanza Casati

    Madeline Miller's Circe meets Cersei Lannister in this propulsive and richly drawn debut.

Win This Book
Win Such Kindness

30 Copies to Give Away!

Few writers paint three-dimensional characters with such verve and humanism.
Booklist (starred review)



Solve this clue:

S I F A R Day

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.