In Review: February 25, 1998
One thoughtful shaving at a time
A furniture maker's guide to handplanes
The Handplane Book
Garrett Hack '74, with photographs by John S. Sheldon
The Taunton Press, $34.95
It would be true to say that The Handplane Book, the first book by furniture maker Garrett Hack '74, is the best book on handplanes that I have ever read. It would also be true to say that it is the best book on handplanes that I have ever held in my hands. It would be in the essence of full disclosure for me to admit that before I became acquainted with The Handplane Book, I did not know what a handplane was, but had a vague idea that it was a kind of model airplane. It isn't. It's a woodworking tool. Obviously, I'm not a woodworker. However, there are quite a few woodworkers for whom the first two of the above statements will be true.
For those who require a definition, a handplane is essentially "a chisel wedged into a solid body," Hack writes. There are many varieties, each with different specific applications, but generally planes are used for leveling and smoothing wood.
"A man who wants to work must attach value to the best tools," Goethe said, a quote Hack includes in his introduction. The handplane, according to Hack, is a very, very good tool, but one that many woodworkers are not as familiar with as they should be. When Hack started using planes, he experienced a great deal of frustration, and there were not many sources of information on how to best use handplanes. "Few books were helpful," he writes. "I've set out to remedy that."
And remedy it he does in this comprehensive guide to planes that includes information on how planes work, types of planes, and planing techniques. "I like to think of this book as a plane owner's manual," he writes. The Handplane Book is a well-researched volume that contains photographs on nearly every page, many diagrams, and detailed instructions on all aspects of using handplanes, from how to clean them to how to use different varieties to advice on buying them.
Hack is a furniture maker, farmer, and writer who lives in the small town (population 2,000) of Thetford, Vermont, with his wife and four children. He works on his own, designing and building high-style contemporary pieces often inspired by Federal or Shaker styles. Although he makes all kinds of pieces, most of them commissioned, he particularly enjoys making case pieces such as desks, chests of drawers, and tables, because he "loves drawers," he says. Indeed, when justifying why woodworkers today should use a handplane rather than a machine, he writes, "What machine can fit a drawer as well as a plane, one thin and thoughtful shaving at a time?"
Hack studied civil engineering and architecture at Princeton, and after graduating he designed and built houses for a few years. He didn't consciously decide to make the career switch to furniture making it was more of a gradual development. His career evolved as he realized that he wanted to reduce the scale of his work. "I wanted to work by myself more," he explains in an interview. "I went from the macro - the whole house - to the micro." He then spent two years studying furniture making at Boston University's now-defunct program in artisanry.
However, there's no question that his early training has been indispensable to his furniture making. His civil-engineering training undergirds his overall design capabilities, particularly in the construction of joints and in achieving an optimal weight for each piece of furniture. In addition, he says, he's always considered himself an architect of sorts. "Furniture making is creating spaces. It's taking wood and constructing it into a space that is usable. It's all related."
Since his time at Boston University, Hack has been primarily self-taught. He describes himself as a "traditionalist." He uses machines to get his work to the point where he can start using hand tools. Taunton Press asked him to write The Handplane Book after he had published several articles in Fine Woodworking magazine. The book was about two years in the making, including 10 months of working on it almost exclusively. He is now working on his next book, on classic hand tools, and a third book has been proposed.
"At this stage in my career, I realized I owe something back," Hack says. "I have a certain amount of information that is useful to someone else." This sentiment is not a particularly common one among woodworkers, who often closely guard their techniques, but Hack says that he doesn't feel proprietary about his knowledge, and he expects writing to remain an aspect of his career. "I get calls all the time from people who need help," he says. With the publication of his first book, Hack will undoubtedly be helping far more people than he has in the past.
-Andrea Gollin '88
Andrea Gollin is a Miami-based writer and editor.
Assuming the Position: A Family Business Survival Guide
Rob Mancuso '73
Houndstooth Press, $9.95 (847-332-2859)
Assuming the Position is part fairy tale, part how-to guide. In 10 brief chapters, Rob Mancuso '73 gives us a highly selective account of what it was like to grow up as the son of a successful car dealer and go on to become one himself. At the end of each chapter he offers business suggestions that he's learned along the way. For example: Visualize the environment you want to create. Learn everything you can about the business starting with the basics. Come to terms with your proficiencies as well as your deficiencies. Prepare yourself for the downside of being part of management. Start thinking early on about where your real fit in the company may be. Don't expect to be cut any slack by customers or staff. Admit to yourself that you're different. Cover your backside.
Family-business owners could presumably derive benefit from these insights, which I surmise are hard-won and sincere. And specifically, those in the automotive business could benefit from Mancuso's ideas about how to treat car buyers. As I read, I found myself wishing that the dealerships in my area would treat their customers as well as Mancuso treated his.
Unfortunately, Mancuso's version of his family history is just a little too once-over-lightly. He deprives us of reaching a deeper understanding that a fuller story about his family's rise to automotive prominence would give.
And this is a story that's simply begging to be told. Mancuso's careful account hints at inter- and intragenerational conflict, but never fully reveals it. He himself struggles in the early years, but then settles down like a dutiful son to extend his father's legacy. Once that's accomplished, however, he wastes no time in getting out. At a fairly young age, Mancuso washes his hands of his father's automotive business and turns to other pursuits. That act in itself says a great deal. And Mancuso's account of the difficulties of getting out of a family business alone would make extraordinarily valuable reading - but all we get here is a safe, cursory paragraph or two. Forgive the playwright in me for wishing more.
Of course, one appreciates and understands Mancuso's tact and reticence. As it stands, Assuming the Position is tantalizing and provocative. Mancuso is a competent writer and an intelligent witness of what is obviously an extraordinary family. What a fascinating story he could make of this dynasty of three generations of immigrants who built one of the most successful car businesses in the U.S. There's a real story here waiting to be told.
-Nick Morgan '75
Nick Morgan is a speech consultant and playwright based in Pennsylvania.
Global Bargain Hunting:
Burton G. Malkiel and Jianping Mei
Simon & Schuster, $25
In publishing, timing isn't everything - but it can be a heckuva good thing. The tremors that rumbled through developing markets starting in late October have generated worldwide headlines, and provide fertile ground for a book like Global Bargain Hunting.
Authors Burton G. Malkiel - holder of the Chemical Bank Chairman's Professorship in Economics at Princeton and an eminent writer on stock markets - and New York University professor Jianping Mei completed the book well before the markets' quakes, but one of their fundamental tenets is that investing in emerging markets isn't for the faint of heart. They write that the price for pursuing huge gains in these markets is "extreme risk," stemming from political instability and currency upheavals. The latter were on vivid display last fall, when the operative phrase wasn't profit-taking but protecting one's downside amid huge overnight movements - mostly plunges - in the Hong Kong and Singapore markets.
As Malkiel and Mei note, statistics paint a happy future for immense markets like India, Indonesia, and China. Their populations are growing rapidly - providing a built-in labor force and a consumer market for goods - and cultural values that stress hard work and savings also augur well. Economic growth in developing nations is expected to be three times that of developed countries in the early years of the next century, they write. With 85 percent of the world's population in 1996, emerging markets had just 21 percent of global gross domestic product and only 11 percent of the total market value of common stocksimbalances that will shrink as their output mounts and new capital flows in.
Unfortunately, corruption and fraud flourish in some countries that until recently had never known anything but centralized state planning. Too often, the authors write, "joint venture partners and managers of overseas companies often view investors from developed countries as cash cows to be milked."
Still, the new breed of investment manager - schooled to look for high returns, bargain stocks, and diversification - has increasingly looked to overseas markets, and last fall's shocks didn't alter their fundamental appeal. This book isn't aimed at those managers, but at the educated layman who's trying to assess just how much to allocate to these areas, and in what kinds of investments.
-Jeffrey Marshall '71
Jeffrey Marshall is an author and executive editor of U.S. Banker magazine.
For Thomas Hoving '53 *60, waggish connoisseur and former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, looking at art is nigh a physical experience. In the introduction to his new and lavish book, Greatest Works of Art of Western Civilization, he says he wanted to record those works of art that had bowled him over visually and emotionally. For Hoving, the emotional borders on the physical: about Delacroix's The Death of Sardanapalus, he says, "Every time I see this marvelous work I hear the smash of battle and pillage, I can smell the smoke and hear the piteous cries of the dying and those about to die." The book's 111 pieces, ranging in style from the paleolithic Venus of Willendorf to The Rose, by beat artist Jay DeFeo, are accompanied by Hoving's descriptions, musings, and art historical notes, which taken individually are interesting, and as a whole, stunning. (Artisan, $50.)
One World Ready or Not: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism, by William Greider '58 (Simon & Schuster, $27.50) - In this analysis of the world's new globalized economy, Greider likens "modern capitalism driven by the imperatives of a global industrial revolution" to a "wondrous new machine...that reaps as it destroys." Greider, the author of several notable books, is the national editor of Rolling Stone magazine.
Driving Change: How the Best Companies Are Preparing for the 21st Century, by Jerry Yoram Wind and Jeremy Main '50 (Free Press, $27.50) - Globalization is forcing companies to change, and the authors offer a "framework for thinking and acting that we hope will help business leaders drive the changes they need to make." Wind is a professor at Wharton and the founding director of the SEI Center of Advanced Studies and Management; Main is a senior fellow at SEI.
NAFTA and the Trade in Medical Services Between the U.S. and Mexico, by David C. Warner '62 (Johnson School at the University of Texas) - a monograph compiled by Warner, who teaches public affairs at the University of Texas, from work done by 12 of his students. It examines trading of medical-care goods and services between Mexico and the U.S.
Pasteur's Quadrant: Basic Science and Technological Innovation, by Donald E. Stokes '51 (Brookings, $14.95) - The late author, a former dean of the Woodrow Wilson School, argues for a new understanding of the relationship between science and technology, one that will guide the government's funding of research in the 21st century. As a model he looks to Louis Pasteur and other 19th-century scientists whose work, while aimed at solving practical problems in health and industry, seldom strayed from their quest for basic scientific knowledge.
Last of the Wild: Vanished and Vanishing Giants of the Animal World, by Robert M. McClung '39 (Linnet, $27.50) - In his latest of more than 60 books on wildlife, McClung catalogues the decline of the earth's large animals, which an exploding human population is driving to extinction at a rate unprecedented in the life of the planet. The author holds out hope that we may yet find the collective will to ensure that "tigers and rhinoceroses and gorillas" will continue to exist in the wild.
Fishing the Delaware Valley, by George H. Ingram, Jr., Robert F. Marler, Jr. '54, and Robert R. Smith (Temple, $27.95) - Marler, a retired professor of English at Temple University, and his coauthors take the approach that there's more to fishing than fishing. What is nominally an angling guide is also a useful reference for anyone planning a weekend getaway along the Delaware or its tributaries, with tips on restaurants, wineries, and inns.
Life on the Wing: Adventures With Birds of Prey, by David T. Moran '62 (Round Table Press, P.O. Box 18642, Boulder, CO 80308, $80) - Moran, a research physiologist, appears to have devoted most of his nonworking life to falconry. The book is filled with illustrations, whose quality varies, but the author's accounts about training raptors, and hunting with them, are well-crafted and informative.
The Birth of Bebop: A Social and Musical History, by Scott DeVeaux '76 (University of California, $35) - traces the stylistic development of bebop, which began in the 1940s and which DeVeaux, an associate professor of music at the University of Virginia, considers more than either an evolution or revolution in jazz music.
Color Consciousness: The Political Morality of Race, by K. Anthony Appiah and Amy Gutmann (Princeton, $21.95) - an examination of race, racism, and identity. Appiah is a professor at Harvard, and Gutmann is a professor and dean of the faculty at Princeton.
Amazing Grace: A Life of Beauford Delaney, by David Leeming '58 (Oxford $30) - Color plates accompany this biography of the African-American artist, some of whose work can be seen through March 22 at the Michael Rosenfeld Gallery in New York. Leeming is a professor emeritus of English from the University of Connecticut.