Several gadgets against a purple background

Book review: ‘Nostalgia Nerd's Gadgets, Gizmos & Gimmicks’ by Peter Leigh

Image credit: Foto 173421454 © Aleksandr Grechanyuk |

From the Teasmade to the TomTom, gadgets have gone from revolutionary ‘must-haves’ to nostalgic museum pieces, providing a glimpse into the evolution of the modern world.

Most of modern history can be defined by gadgets. From the Walkmans of the ‘80s and the Game Boys of the ‘90s to the iPhones of the 2010s, there is no decade in the 20th and 21st centuries that has not been accompanied by a shiny new personal technology product that was sure to change the world.  

For a moment, some of them did. Others, less so; but all of them together can conjure up quite a picture – or a book full of them. 

In ‘Nostalgia Nerd's Gadgets, Gizmos & Gimmicks: A Potted History of Personal Tech’ (Octopus Publishing Group, £16.99, ISBN 9781781578582), Peter Leigh – also known for his Youtube alter-ego, Nostalgia Nerd – takes an irreverent, self-reflective and informative approach to the history of personal tech.

Beginning in 1938, with the first automatic teapot (which also worked as an alarm clock) and through to the 2021 Oculus Quest 2 VR headset, Leigh serves as a cheeky companion to the evolution of technology, providing an informed (but not exhaustive), analysis on why some pieces have become imprinted in the collective memory, while others have been long forgotten.

The book takes us back to the times when the Nokia 8110 was considered futuristic enough to be featured in 'The Matrix' (albeit a modified version), the Casio C-80 was advertised as “the watch that replaces everything” and the name Tomy Dingbot rang more bells than that of WALL-E. And let’s not forget those periods when the Motorola MicroTAC was considered the least brick-like mobile phone in the market and using laser pointers was getting people arrested. 

Feel old yet? The generation that is currently joining the workforce has probably never seen any of these gadgets used in real-life – and beyond their cameos on shows like 'Stranger Things'but they would surely have a laugh reading about the ten different devices that have now been combined to fit in one pocket. 

As a self-described “aficionado” of retro technology, Leigh carefully balances the technical with the humorous, to provide an entertaining run-through that could have otherwise fallen into the trap of becoming a never-ending catalogue of outdated technology. 

Interweaving personal memories with market analysis and technical descriptions, the author is able to distinguish the products that became ‘iconic’ to their time, whether that would be for their innovative approach, their attractive design or the absolute randomness of their existence in the first place. After all, not all that is useful is fun, and even the most innovative product, if inaccessible, could become a mere piece of décor in the hands of disappointed users.

This book presents itself like a walk through memory lane, and it’s sure to stir some long-forgotten memories, provoke more than a few chuckles and, perhaps, leave the reader with a little more knowledge on how consumer technology came to be. 

And perhaps one day, when that old gimmick that has been accumulating dust in a drawer for decades becomes, once again, cool – as was the case quite recently with Polaroid cameras – this book could bridge the gap between the nostalgic nerds and the trendy Gen Zers, reminding all of a time when mobile phones couldn’t just do it all.  

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