Book review: The Human-Powered Home: Choosing Muscles Over Motors by Tamara Dean

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The book begins with an interesting historical overview of important hand-powered tools and gadgets – many of which were familiar to us from James Burke’s public television series Connections: interchangeable parts, the potter’s wheel, plows, water-driven mills, etc. Goes on to discuss how human-power technology continues to develop in the appropriate technology movement. It’s also full of profiles of people and organizations using and promoting human power world-wide.

One chapter explains the science and mechanics behind chain and belt drives, fly wheels, gearing ratios, frames, and scavenging parts to make your own devices. Includes instructions for converting these items to pedal power: blender, grain mill, cultivator, water pump, sewing machine, washing machine, electrical generator, and tool sharpener.

This is one of the many books I brought home from the library that Matt snagged before I had a chance to read it. This was one of the few books we didn’t agree on. I found some of the scientific instruction (gearing, in particular) to be over my head, whereas Matt skipped most of it and complained that it was “all basic stuff” he didn’t feel he needed to review. I was very excited about the included plans for machine conversions and Matt was disappointed with them, saying that it was all stuff he could have figured out on his own. So I guess what you get out of this book depends on what you bring to it: if you are a mechanical newbie it will be very interesting and instructional; if you are already a mechanical tinkerer you may not be impressed.

— Amanda

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