Why the Wheel Is Round

Why the Wheel Is Round

Muscles, Technology, and How We Make Things Move

Book - 2016
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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 locomotionthe 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 rotationmany 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.

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.
 


Publisher: Chicago : The University of Chicago Press, 2016
Copyright Date: ©2016
ISBN: 9780226381039
022638103X
Branch Call Number: 612.76 VOGEL
Characteristics: xi, 327 pages ; 24 cm

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