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Fewer, Better Things: The Hidden Wisdom of Objects

Fewer, Better Things: The Hidden Wisdom of Objects

Adamson writes 34 very brief chapters (though very brief ones) to invite a closer look at different types of objects, materials, craft and production techniques through encounters with people involved with developing, making or using them: we meet the designer of astronauts’ living spaces, a small-town hardware store proprietor, a retired corrections officer, a TV prop manager, and a tribologist who studies the friction of interacting surfaces. Along the way, we are treated to fascinating nuggets of information about how things are made: the working of a fret-saw, how the jacquard loom changed the process of weaving, how changes in automobile silhouettes reflect the drawing tools used to design them, and the technology of injection-moulding plastic. We even learn the elaborate steps of the tea ceremony, which he relates to the awareness and respect for objects, and the craftsmen who made them.


My favorite by far were his own family stories: from his farmer/jet-engine-designer grandfather to his math-prodigy father, his philosopher brother and his physician mother to his own experiences as a museum curator, using each story to draw analogies that make points about materiality and human relationships with objects. - Sandy

From the former director of the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, a timely and passionate case for the role of the well-designed object in the digital age.


Curator and scholar Glenn Adamson opens Fewer, Better Thingsby contrasting his beloved childhood teddy bear to the smartphones and digital tablets children have today. He laments that many children and adults are losing touch with the material objects that have nurtured human development for thousands of years. The objects are still here, but we seem to care less and know less about them.


In his presentations to groups, he often asks an audience member what he or she knows about the chair the person is sitting in. Few people know much more than whether it's made of wood, plastic, or metal. If we know little about how things are made, it's hard to remain connected to the world around us.


Fewer, Better Thingsexplores the history of craft in its many forms, explaining how raw materials, tools, design, and technique come together to produce beauty and utility in handmade or manufactured items. Whether describing the implements used in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, the use of woodworking tools, or the use of new fabrication technologies, Adamson writes expertly and lovingly about the aesthetics of objects, and the care and attention that goes into producing them. Reading this wise and elegant book is a truly transformative experience.

Publication Date: 
August 7, 2018