The Toaster Project

Thomas Thwaites

Why I looked at this book

I'm interested in how our economy can be very efficient in terms of creating the maximum of stuff for the minimum cost, but in order to benefit from this efficiency we lose a large degree of control of what is going on. In this book Thomas Thwaites describes how he tried to build a basic object from scratch. I'd keen to see how well he succeeded and whether this suggests alternatives in the way we interact with the economy.

First impressions

It's a short book, so the sample is correspondingly short, but it does tell that Thwaites didn't actually succeed in building a toaster 'from scratch' according to his rules. It looks very readable and I'm interested to find out what the problems were, and whether there are products we could build 'from scratch'.

Main review

I found this book an entertaining read. It has lots of pictures and is easy to read. However, if you're looking for analysis of how we can live a more sustainable life then I think you should look elsewhere. I haven't got a word count for this book, but I would think it's considerably less than most books, and there just isn't the space of a deeper look at things.

Thwaites starts off with the aim of producing steel, mica, plastic, copper and nickel from scratch using basic technology. Well mica was OK, but the others were much more of a problem - for some he had to use modern technology and for it was just a case of melting and reforming existing material. So it seems that making stuff from scratch nowadays is not really on. In the last chapter Thwaites discusses the environmental problems we are causing our planet, and while that might be important I didn't feel that he was saying anything new. I'd have liked to have seen a discussion much more attuned to the subject of the book. There are a few questions that could have been looked at. Trying to be self sufficient in this case didn't work - what can you do where it does work? Also, how does the self sufficiency attempt of The Good Life contrast with the environmental movement of today. And if you can buy a hi-tech device - a toaster - for £3.94, then why is it considered so expensive to use technology to deal with pollution?

But of course I shouldn't be too critical because a book doesn't go into the topics I want - it's the author's choice of what goes into a book, and I just have to carry on looking for discussion of the questions I'm interested in. In the end I thought the book was worth reading for what it is.

Reviews Elsewhere

The Amazon Reviews are generally positive, but there's some disappointment that the author didn't really achieve his goal. Likewise on Goodreads reviewers thought it was entertaining but lacked substance.

There are plenty of other reviews on the web, but I felt that many reviewers didn't seem to get that the project essentially failed, and just put up lots of images from the book. On review I did find more thoughtful was that by Elena Goukassian