Why the Wheel Is Round: Muscles, Technology, and How We Make Things Move

Category: Book
By (author): Vogel, Steven
Subject:  HISTORY / General
  SCIENCE / Life Sciences / Evolution
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Published: October 2016
Format: Book-hardcover
Pages: 344
Size: 9.00in x 6.00in x 1.10in

Additional Notes

From The Publisher*There is no part of our bodies that fully rotates-be it a wrist or ankle or arm in a shoulder socket, we are made to twist only so far. And yet there is no more fundamental human invention than the wheel-a rotational mechanism that accomplishes what our physical form cannot. Throughout history, humans have developed technologies powered by human strength, complementing the physical abilities we have while overcoming our weaknesses. Providing a unique history of the wheel and other rotational devices-like cranks, cranes, carts, and capstans-Why the Wheel Is Round examines the contraptions and tricks we have devised in order to more efficiently move-and move through-the physical world.

Steven Vogel combines his engineering expertise with his remarkable curiosity about how things work to explore how wheels and other mechanisms were, until very recently, powered by the push and pull of the muscles and skeletal systems of humans and other animals. Why the Wheel Is Round explores all manner of treadwheels, hand-spikes, gears, and more, as well as how these technologies diversified into such things as hand-held drills and hurdy-gurdies.  Surprisingly, a number of these devices can be built out of everyday components and materials, and Vogel's accessible and expansive book includes instructions and models so that inspired readers can even attempt to make their own muscle-powered technologies, like trebuchets and ballista.

Appealing to anyone fascinated by the history of mechanics and technology as well as to hobbyists with home workshops, Why the Wheel Is Round offers a captivating exploration of our common technological heritage based on the simple concept of rotation. From our leg muscles powering the gears of a bicycle to our hands manipulating a mouse on a roller ball, it will be impossible to overlook the amazing feats of innovation behind our daily devices.
From The Publisher*The human body is an assemblage of parts that don't fully rotate. Anyone who has sprained an ankle, torn a rotator cuff, or tried to view behind them in an owl-like fashion can attest to the limits of human design. And these limitations pervade natural systems. With the exception of flagella, true wheels don't exist in the natural world. There are two modes of locomotion-the first is simple rolling, and the second is fixed rotation, such as a wheel or propeller. Humans have a created a world of that relies on rotation-many objects that require human muscle to move, from the knobs on a stove, to a steering wheel, to the track ball on a computer mouse. To the mind of a biomechanist, this point of connection between the human muscular-skeletal system and the world in which we use it to navigate is a terrain for marrying human functioning, development, and history. Cranks and Cranes does just that. Steven Vogel employs his love of history and his remarkable understanding of how things work to look at wheels and other rotational devices and how they are powered by the muscle and skeletal systems of humans and other domesticated animals.
Review Quote*"Biomechanist Vogel . . .  succeeds once again in turning engineers, biologists and the general public onto the beauty, complexity and approachability of his field. He spins an 11-part tale of circular motion that ranges from rotation in biology to rotation driven by biology. Vogel captivates with discussions of engineering feats rooted in circular motion - from plodding horses turning shallow paddle wheels to gears that drive sixteenth-century reading machines - and doesn't stint on his trademark puns and word-play. Mixing findings in his own field with those from mechanics, dynamics and historical analysis, he creates a delightful perspective on the wonders of whirl. There is even a bonus chapter on how to make simple rotational models, including an entertaining but difficult-to-use drill. Let the good times roll."
Review Quote*"A brilliant history of technology. . . . This is a wonderful book, in the literal sense of the word, full of wonders of nature, human invention, history and the sheet joy of looking at the world through the eyes of a keen-and amiable-scientific observer."
Review Quote*"A revolution about revolutions, Why the Wheel Is Round is Vogel's microhistory of humans doing what doesn't come naturally: creating and powering rotational tools and machines.  To make muscle-powered rotary machinery - querns, bow drills, whims, lathes, and horse ferries - requires the invention of axels, cranks, and ropes.  How this clever technology works, and why it works the way it does, is revealed clearly through the lens of biomechanics. Vogel is fascinated by spins, turns, and twists, and his enthusiasm for the artifacts around us is more than infectious.  He incites an urge to invent and build, and, fortunately, includes instructions for doing so.  Happiness runs in a circular motion."
Review Quote*"Reading this book, I found myself being pulled along by the curiosity of Vogel as he connects the power provided by the muscles of humans and animals with the immense variety of rotating objects invented over the course of human history. Despite the book's title, wheels are only one part of the story. Firmly grounded in Vogel's deep understanding of physical principles, the book is as informative as it is entertaining."
Review Quote*"Vogel writes with his typical, easy-as-pi style that epitomizes his intense curiosity for all things round. Gear up to read topics revolving around tools, toys, machines, and even animals.  Ever the spokesman for experiments, Vogel goes full circle by ending with an appendix filled with DIY physical models.  Whether you're a tinkerer in the garage, an inquisitive self-educator, or a budding biomechanist, this page-turner will round out your knowledge of circular motion."  
Biographical NoteSteven Vogel (1940–2015) was James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of biology at Duke University. His books include Cats' Paws and Catapults, Glimpses of Creatures in Their Physical Worlds, and The Life of a Leaf, the latter also published by the University of Chicago Press.