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“Though ours is an age of high technology, the essence of what engineering is and what engineers do is not common knowledge. Even the most elementary of principles upon which great bridges, jumbo jets, or super computers are built are alien concepts to many. This is so in part because engineering as a human endeavor is not yet integrated into our culture and intellectual tradition. And while educators are currently wrestling with the problem of introducing technology into conventional academic curricula, thus better preparing today’s students for life in a world increasingly technological, there is as yet no consensus as to how technological literacy can best be achieved. "
I believe, and I argue in this essay, that the ideas of engineering are in fact in our bones and part of our human nature and experience. Furthermore, I believe that an understanding and an appreciation of engineers and engineering can be gotten without an engineering or technical education. Thus I hope that the technologically uninitiated will come to read what I have written as an introduction to technology. Indeed, this book is my answer to the questions 'What is engineering?' and 'What do engineers do?'" - Henry Petroski, To Engineer is Human
Design pervades our lives. Everything from drafting a PowerPoint presentation to planning a state-of-the-art bridge embodies this universal human activity. But what makes a great design? In this compelling and wide-ranging look at the essence of invention, distinguished engineer and author Henry Petroski argues that, time and again, we have built success on the back of failure--not through easy imitation of success.
Success through Failure shows us that making something better--by carefully anticipating and thus averting failure--is what invention and design are all about. Petroski explores the nature of invention and the character of the inventor through an unprecedented range of both everyday and extraordinary examples--illustrated lectures, child-resistant packaging for drugs, national constitutions, medical devices, the world's tallest skyscrapers, long-span bridges, and more. Stressing throughout that there is no surer road to eventual failure than modeling designs solely on past successes, he sheds new light on spectacular failures, from the destruction of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in 1940 and the space shuttle disasters of recent decades, to the collapse of the World Trade Center in 2001.
Petroski also looks at the prehistoric and ancient roots of many modern designs. The historical record, especially as embodied in failures, reveals patterns of human social behavior that have implications for large structures like bridges and vast organizations like NASA. Success through Failure--which will fascinate anyone intrigued by design, including engineers, architects, and designers themselves--concludes by speculating on when we can expect the next major bridge failure to occur, and the kind of bridge most likely to be involved.
Acclaimed engineer and historian Henry Petroski explores our core infrastructure from both historical and contemporary perspectives, explaining how essential their maintenance is to America's economic health. Petroski reveals the genesis of the many parts of America's highway system--our interstate numbering system, the centerline that divides roads, and such taken-for-granted objects as guardrails, stop signs, and traffic lights--all crucial to our national and local infrastructure.
A compelling work of history, The Road Taken is also an urgent clarion call aimed at American citizens, politicians, and anyone with a vested interest in our economic well-being. Physical infrastructure in the United States is crumbling, and Petroski reveals the complex and challenging interplay between government and industry inherent in major infrastructure improvement. The road we take in the next decade toward rebuilding our aging infrastructure will in large part determine our future national prosperity.
Most of us take for granted that our books are vertical on our shelves with the spines facing out, but Henry Petroski, inveterately curious engineer, didn't. As a result, readers are guided along the astonishing evolution from papyrus scrolls boxed at Alexandria to upright books shelved at the Library of Congress. Unimpeachably researched, enviably written, and charmed with anecdotes from Seneca to Samuel Pepys to a nineteenth-century bibliophile who had to climb over his books to get into bed, The Book on the Bookshelf is indispensable for anyone who loves books.
An architectural whodunit that unlocks the secrets of a hand-built home.
When Henry Petroski and his wife Catherine bought a charming but modest six-decades-old island retreat in coastal Maine, Petroski couldn’t help but admire its unusual construction. An eminent expert on engineering, history, and design, he began wondering about the place’s origins and evolution: Who built it, and how? What needs, materials, technologies, historical developments, and laws shaped it? How had it fared through the years with its various inhabitants?
Sleuthing around dimly lit closets, knotty-pine wall panels, and even a secret passage—but never removing so much as a nail—Petroski zooms in on the details but also steps back to examine the structure in the context of its time and place.
Catherine Petroski’s beautiful photographs capture the clues and the atmosphere. A vibrant cast of neighbors and past residents—most notably the house’s masterful creator, an engineer-turned-“folk architect”—become key characters in the story.
As the mystery unfolds, revealing an extraordinary house and its environs, this ode to loving design will leave readers enchanted and inspired.
"Seamlessly linked...With astonishing scope and generosity of view, Mr. Petroski places the tradition of American bridge-building in perspective."--New York Times Book Review
Henry Petroski takes us inside the research, development, and debates surrounding the most critical challenges of our time, exploring the feasibility of biofuels, the progress of battery-operated cars, and the question of nuclear power. He gives us an in-depth investigation of the various options for renewable energy—among them solar, wind, tidal, and ethanol—explaining the benefits and risks of each. Will windmills soon populate our landscape the way they did in previous centuries? Will synthetic trees, said to be more efficient at absorbing harmful carbon dioxide than real trees, soon dot our prairies? Will we construct a “sunshade” in outer space to protect ourselves from dangerous rays? In many cases, the technology already exists. What’s needed is not so much invention as engineering.
Just as the great achievements of centuries past—the steamship, the airplane, the moon landing—once seemed beyond reach, the solutions to the twenty-first century’s problems await only a similar coordination of science and engineering. Eloquently reasoned and written, The Essential Engineer identifies and illuminates these problems—and, above all, sets out a course for putting ideas into action.
From ancient Rome, where emperor Nero made his entrance into a banquet hall with a silver toothpick in his mouth, to nineteenth-century Boston, where Charles Forster, the father of the American wooden toothpick industry, ensured toothpicks appeared in every restaurant, the toothpick has been an omnipresent, yet often overlooked part of our daily lives. Here, with an engineer's eye for detail and a poet's flair for language, Henry Petroski takes us on an incredible tour of this most interesting invention. Along the way, he peers inside today's surprisingly secretive toothpick-manufacturing industry, and explores a treasure trove of the toothpick's unintended uses and perils, from sandwiches to martinis and beyond.
To illustrate his thesis, Petroski tells the story of the paper drinking cup, which owes its popularity to the discovery that water glasses could carry germs. He pays tribute to the little plastic tripod that keeps pizza from sticking to the box and analyzes the numerical layouts of telephones and handheld calculators. Small Things Considered is Petroski at his most trenchant and provocative, casting his eye not only on everyday artifacts but on their users as well.
Petroksi’s paper was The Long Island Press, whose headlines ran to COP SAVES OLD WOMAN FROM THUG and DiMAG SAYS BUMS CAN’T WIN SERIES. Folding it into a tube suitable for throwing was an exercise in post-Euclidean geometry. Maintaining a Schwinn revealed volumes about mechanics. Reading Paperboy, we also learn about the hazing rituals of its namesakes, the aesthetics of kitchen appliances, and the delicate art of penny-pitching. With gratifying reflections on these and other lessons of a bygone era–lessons about diligence, labor, and community-mindedness–Paperboy is a piece of Americana to cherish and reread.