You will be forgiven if your first thought on seeing what book I decided to review this week was something along the lines of “oh dear, he’s finally cracked,” especially if that thought was enough to convince you to click on the post and visit the site. Yes, I realize that of all the odd and apparently off-topic books I’ve reviewed here on the site – everything from The Self-Taught Programmer to Meditations with Cows – this might be a new maximum. Despite that, or maybe because of it, I think this might be the most generally applicable and universally useful books I’ve reviewed.
It’s not that this was a major page turner (as you may have guessed from the title). It is mostly a collection of data tables of anthropometric measurements, with some descriptions of how to use them and the considerations that should go into certain spaces, activities, and products. I cannot say that I got through long days during the week I read it by looking forward to reading about the anthropometric design considerations for the typical home bathroom when I got home at the end of the day. It was everything you’re probably thinking right now: dry, with little prose, a lot of diagrams, and a lot of information that seems pretty irrelevant to most of us in the course of our everyday lives. It is also a book that I see myself referencing on a regular basis long into the future.
While this is not the sort of book that lends itself to being read straight through, as it were, it is the sort of book that makes a very useful reference for all kinds of tasks, and not just if you happen to be an architect, engineer, or interior designer. Around the house, I could identify at least a half dozen places where you might be able to make small changes, informed by this book, that will make your daily life a little better. Things like how much space to leave per person at a dining table so that there is room to eat comfortably and serve the food, or how to hang pictures so that they are the most visually accessible, or even how to arrange your furniture to make a room feel more livable, all based on anthropometric considerations. If you’re arranging just for you and your family, you could use the book to learn what measurements to take, and then gather the data for yourself, rather than using the percentile figures provided.
My original reason for picking up this book was very specific: I wanted to know what measurements to consider when designing a workbench that I plan to build in the near future. Yes, long before I wanted to be an astronautical engineer, and even before I started dabbling in writing, I wanted to be a carpenter, and have my own little shop building custom furniture for people. While I no longer have much of an interest in trying to make a living off of the activity, I still enjoying the craft, and have some thought that I may eventually build some custom furniture for my own home. After all, I don’t have enough hobbies. If you’re wondering how I went from hand-made furniture to billion dollar spacecraft, well…I guess a satellite is just a fancy metal cabinet in space?
There are, admittedly, parts of this book that I don’t think I will ever use, like the considerations for designing healthcare spaces, or the dimensional concerns pertaining to rubber ducks in hot tubs. The authors are also a little over-excited about their chosen topic, including an epilogue in which they essentially argue that incorporating anthropometric considerations into interior design will save lives and solve all of the world’s problems (I’m exaggerating slightly, but only slightly). I certainly cannot argue that this book is not dry, and if you read before bed, like I do, you will have little difficulty falling asleep while you’re reading it. That’s not why you should read this book. If you live or work with physical objects, which I think almost all of us do, this book will be a useful reference to you, and I highly recommend it.