The Essential Engineer: Why Science Alone Will Not Solve Our Global Problems

Henry Petroski, Author . Knopf $26.95 (274p) ISBN 978-0-307-27245-4

For a quarter-century now, Duke University's Petroski has replaced Samuel Florman as the foremost American civil engineer explaining to lay audiences the nature of engineering and its crucial role in improving the world. Petroski has long been outraged by the persistent elevation of scientists over engineers in terms of intelligence and creativity. Yet none of Petroski's 14 books on technology has argued so aggressively as his newest that engineers do not merely apply what scientists discover. Instead, engineers seek the most appropriate solution out of several to any engineering problem—not the supposedly single solution requiring diligence rather than depth. Analyzing both historical and contemporary examples, from climate change to public health, Petroski shows how science often overlooks structural, economic, environmental and aesthetic dimensions that routinely challenge engineers. Moreover, he says, sometimes science trails technology, as when engineers had to design the first moon landing vehicles before scientists learned its surface composition. Far from being hostile toward science, Petroski pleads for continued cooperation between science and engineering. When, as Petroski laments, even President Obama has sometimes omitted engineering in touting science, this book could hardly be more timely. Illus. (Jan.)

Reviewed on: 10/26/2009
Release date: 02/01/2010
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