Editor's Choice

Editor's Choice

January 12, 2003|By Michael Pakenham

Really Useful: The origins of everyday things, by Joel Levy. Firefly Books, 224 pages, $24.95, softbound.

It's a gimmick book, sure, designed to catch a buyer's eye. But, like the best of that breed, it is based on an act of recognition and imagination that may be perceived by a healthy slice of Americans as just the delight they were looking for. Lavishly illustrated, this little book lays out objects that are in common use in more or less daily life, and provides a concise, well-written essay on each, offering facts on its origin, purpose, inner secrets, history and utility. From corks to traffic lights, from sticky tape to the brassiere, Velcro to Teflon, fireworks to drinking fountains. There are almost 100 more, virtually every one familiar and to a degree delightful. A fine thing to leaf through in the smallest room of the house.

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