Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Wheel by Richard W Bulliet

book cover
The Wheel:
Inventions and Reinventions
by Richard W Bulliet

ISBN-13: 9780231173384
Hadcover: 272 pages
Publisher: Columbia University Press
Released: Jan. 19, 2016

Source: ebook review copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

Book Description, Modified from Goodreads:
Richard W. Bulliet focuses on three major phases in the development of the wheel and their relationship to the needs and ambitions of human society. He begins in 4000 B.C.E. with the first wheels affixed to axles. He then follows with the innovation of wheels turning independently on their axles and concludes five thousand years later with the caster, a single rotating and pivoting wheel.

Bulliet's most interesting finding is that a simple desire to move things from place to place did not drive the wheel's development. If that were the case, the wheel could have been invented at any time almost anywhere in the world. By dividing the history of this technology into three conceptual phases and focusing on the specific men, women, and societies that brought it about, Bulliet expands the social, economic, and political significance of a tool we only partially understand.

My Review:
The Wheel is about the origins and development of the three basic types of wheel: the wheelset, rotating wheel, and caster. The author explored why some cultures widely used the wheel and others didn't. What changed so that previous methods of moving things didn't satisfy their needs? Wheels weren't always the best solution out there. He pointed out (among other things) that wheeled vehicles work best on relatively level surfaces, and high-use areas become roads that then need regular maintenance.

The author looked at where early wheel use has been found, how it was used, what motivated adopting its use, and how it developed over time in different places of the world. He mainly looked at mine cars, carts, wagons, chariots, carriages, bicycles, rickshaws, cars, trains, and casters on furniture. There were nice black-and-white pictures of the different wheels and vehicles he talked about.

The book has a formal tone and is an academic look at the topic, but I had no trouble understanding the author. I found this book quite interesting, and I'd recommend it to anyone who's interested in a deeper look into the development of the wheel.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

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