The Tale of the Scale: An Odyssey of Invention
by Solly Angel
New York: Oxford University Press, 2004
In the mid-1980s, Solly Angel had a technological mini-vision. He saw in his mind’s eye a quarter-inch thick personal scale weighing a pound — a travel scale — and he decided to make it a reality, to bring it to market.
The Tale of the Scale is a rare first-person account of the process of invention and design as it unfolds in the remaking of the familiar bathroom scale. It is rare because inventors seldom have the inclination to articulate their thought processes and to recount their experiences in great detail. Written by an inventor, the book stands apart from recent books about inventors.
Angel, an urban planner by profession, had no mechanical skills as he embarked on his journey. The Tale records his transformation, over the course of a decade, from a bungling ignoramus to an expert on thin scales. Readers know as much about scales — or about invention for that matter — as Angel does at the beginning of the journey. Listening to Angel’s unfolding story, they learn about the intricacies of invention and design as Angel finds out about them.
The Tale of the Scale is truly an odyssey of invention. The pursuit of the thin scale takes readers to fascinating places — from Bangkok to Rolling Hills, California, from Groningen in the Netherlands to Murrhardt in Germany, and from New York to Tokyo. But the places Angel explores are not only visually different. They are realms of knowledge inhabited by people with diverse yet complementary outlooks on the invention process — engineers, designers, lawyers, product development specialists, corporate functionaries, and friends who philosophize on the deeper meanings of one’s life pursuits.
Solly Angel is an internationally recognized authority on housing policy in developing countries. He is a senior policy advisor to the UN, the World Bank, and the Inter-American Development Bank. He teaches urban planning at New York University and at Princeton University. He is a co-author of A Pattern Language and the author of Housing Policy Matters.