To Engineer Is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design

To Engineer Is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design

by Henry Petroski
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To Engineer Is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design by Henry Petroski

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780679734161
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/28/1992
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 200,282
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.55(d)

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.

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To Engineer Is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Subway_Reader More than 1 year ago
The most interesting thing about the book is the cover (a famous photograph of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapsing in the wind in 1940). But then all it really amounts to is 232 pages of defensiveness, repeating over and over that failure is just a part of life and experimentation and if we don't want to stagnate we have to expect cracks and collapses, so don't blame the hapless engineer for trying to forward human achievement. Yes, engineers and designers can sometimes be the scapegoats for failures beyond their control, but he makes a weak case and uses this argument to eclipse the real causes and analyses of structural failure. The author cites very few actual examples, analizes the same few examples over and over, and his one or two attempts at discussing novel failures--such as cracks in a set of kitchen knives--go nowhere since it's pure speculation, with no actual research. What's most glaring is his almost complete neglect for the basic role of cost-cutting measures in leading businesses to ignore testing, quality control, maintenance, and basic oversight, putting profits before safety, an essential component he barely touches. In a book supposedly written for the lay person the illustrations, which are critical for understanding the examples he refers to, are few and far between. Some of the major examples he cites, such as the collapse of the Hartford Civic Center roof or the John Hancock building windows failure in Boston, aren't illustrated at all. And for a mostly polemical work there are surprising inconsistencies--in the last chapter he says that that exposing engineering failure are a credit to the profession, only to cite on the next page an engineering conference on structural failure that refused to publish any results. It's an interesting premise, but he goes nowhere (or rather in circles) with it. For a more in-depth and concrete (no pun intended) analysis go to Mario Salvadori, Why Buildings Fall Down.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought this book was well written and a pleasure to read. I felt it would be a great book to explain to non-engineers in laymen's terms what engineers have to deal with. Engineers in all fields must push the technological envelope and manage risk. This book describes the struggles and why they exist.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is a great book on engineering philosophy and the true role of failure in engineering. As in real life, this book points out that we don't learn much from successes, but gain a lot of useful information in our failures that prevent the catastophes from happening again. This is not a mathematical engineering reference book. It is a book that states that when you innovate, mistakes will happen and we must learn from them. Though a little dated, its concepts apply to Challenger, Columbia, and even 9-11 (from the viewpoint of 'why did these happen and how can we keep them from happening again.') I being a recent engineering graduate found it very interesting and read it cover to cover.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Although this book was well written it seemed to be more of a bio. of engenerring than a useful source.