I almost did not pick this book up. It looked like one of those typical torture stories where a criminal sociopath decides to make a family’s life a living hell, most likely by torturing and/or nearly raping all their female characters. This did not come to pass. The book is more interesting than that, though Isles is still a little tawdry for my tastes. This family fights back. So when the daughter is kidnapped at the same time as the husband -- away on a business trip -- is held hostage until the kidnapers get their money, the family fights back. It’s not super predictable but it’s not a bunch of new twists and turns either. Isles has set up an interesting scenario with some predictable Iles flavor (the little diabetic girl. we cringe as she eats Captain Crunch and wonder if she’ll get her life saving insulin in time... does Iles do this just to get a tax write-off for medications?) and a decent resolution.
The short thesis of this book is that there is no perfect design because everyone expects different things out of a product, whether it’s ease of use, cpst of building or ease of mass-producing. Petroski explains this for 300 pages or so with anecdotes ranging from his own reflections in his water glass to the history of the paper bag. Unlike other books of his which are often heavy research without as much reflection, this book almost swings too far the other way and has a lot of his ruminations on the design of everyday things. While this is interesting, sometimes it veers into what seems to be petty personal issues with design which are less interesting to me personally than, say, the actual history of the cup holder.
So it goes back and forth, sometimes tending towards deep explanations of everyday things and sometimes just personal observations. I didn’t feel this book was one of his strongest unless you really want to get to know Petroski the man, but it’s still full of weird little facts that you really wouldn’t find otherwise.