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To Engineer Is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design
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(70 customer reviews)
How did a simple design error cause one of the great disasters of the 1980s - the collapse of the walkways at the Kansas City Hyatt Regency Hotel? What made the graceful and innovative Tacoma Narrows Bridge twist apart in a mild wind in 1940? How did an oversized waterlily inspire the magnificent Crystal Palace, the crowning achievement of Victorian architecture and engineering? These are some of the failures and successes that Henry Petroski, author of the acclaimed "The Pencil," examines in this engaging, wonderfully literate book. More than a series of fascinating case studies, "To Engineer is Human" is a work that looks at our deepest notions of progress and perfection, tracing the fine connection between the quantifiable realm of science and the chaotic realities of everyday life.
- Amazon Sales Rank: #23969 in Books
- Brand: Vintage
- Published on: 1992-03-31
- Released on: 1992-03-31
- Original language: English
- Number of items: 1
- Dimensions: 8.00" h x .55" w x 5.20" l, .56 pounds
- Binding: Paperback
- 272 pages
The moral of this book is that behind every great engineering success is a trail of often ignored (but frequently spectacular) engineering failures. Petroski covers many of the best known examples of well-intentioned but ultimately failed design in action -- the galloping Tacoma Narrows Bridge (which you've probably seen tossing cars willy-nilly in the famous black-and-white footage), the collapse of the Kansas City Hyatt Regency Hotel walkways -- and many lesser known but equally informative examples. The line of reasoning Petroski develops in this book were later formalized into his quasi-Darwinian model of technological evolution in The Evolution of Useful Things, but this book is arguably the more illuminating -- and defintely the more enjoyable -- of these two titles. Highly recommended.
"Reading Petroski's fine book is not only a delight, it is a necessity." --Houston Chronicle
"Serious, amusing, probing, sometimes frightening, and always literate." --Los Angeles Times
About the Author
Henry Petroski is the Aleksandar S. Vesic Professor of Civil Engineering and a professor of history at Duke University. The author of more than a dozen previous books, he lives in Durham, North Carolina, and Arrowsic, Maine.
Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful.
By Dolores Morisseau
This is an excellent study of how seemingly excellent designs can result in catastrophic failures. The explanations are clear and not so long as to be overwhelmingly. For any professional in the human factors and/or human engineering profession who deals in root cause and accident analyses, it should be a must. It does require some slow and careful reading by a non-engineer (like me) but still provides a clear picture of "how the heck could that have happened?" Actually, this is my second time to purchase this book; the second copy was a gift to a friend.
0 of 0 people found the following review helpful.
To stumble is innevitable
By F. G. Nobrega
The book by Henry Petroski taught me important notions: designs constantly evolve to structures bigger, more elegant, more efficient, more economical. And this innovation always involves risk because the changes carry with it conflicting demands of safety factors versus economic considerations. Failure must be anticipated and successful design owns more to failure than success. He correctly points out that failure is also linked to our humanness. His citation of George Santayana is a great final thought: "We must welcome the future, remembering tha soon it will be past; and we must respect the past, knowing that once it was all that was humanly possible."
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful.
Great insight into what engineers do and how they think.
By Paul Foerster
As a high school mathematics teacher (50 years) with an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering and a master's degree in mathematics I have applied engineering principles to the art of teaching students. Petroski's book is most readable and enlightening. My wife, an artist and former English teacher, also enjoyed the book. I have given copies to students (including our granddaughter) considering engineering as a career, and to fellow teachers.