Henry Petroski on the history of the toothpick

NPR has an audio excerpt from Henry Petroski's latest book, The Toothpick: Technology and Culture.

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For author Henry Petroski, the simplest of instruments – be it a pencil or a telephone keypad – can offer fascinating stories of engineering, design and cultural history.

Even toothpicks don't escape his inquisitive eye. His latest book explores the history of this seemingly mundane tool – and why picking our teeth is among mankind's oldest bad habits.

In The Toothpick, Petroski, who is a professor of civil engineering and history at Duke University, chronicles the instrument's odd and funny history, taking readers back to the time of the Neanderthals. Anthropologists have found evidence of grooves on fossilized teeth that resulted from rough-hewn toothpicks. Later, in ancient Rome, the emperor Nero entered a banquet hall with a silver toothpick lodged in his mouth.

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