Henry Petroski, Author
Henry Petroski, Author . Knopf $25 (384p) ISBN 978-0-375-41353-7
Reviewed on: 02/25/2002
Release date: 03/01/2002

In this subtle, engaging memoir, Petroski reminisces about his idyllic 1950s Catholic boyhood in Cambria Heights, Queens, as a member of a guild of paperboys. The headlines of the Long Island Press, which the author used to deliver on his cherished Schwinn, capture the time: "McCarthy Wants to Question Accusers"; "DiMag Says Bums Can't Win Series"; "U.S. Has No Rocket Like Sputnik's." Petroski recalls the '50s with such memories as the Sunday night Ed Sullivan Show; bike rides to the Carvel stand for dipped soft ice cream cones or shakes; and, in the basement of his suburban home, a wet bar and American Flyer electric train set placed on crates. Petroski, a professor of civil engineering and history at Duke University, has a knack for fleshing big stories out of simple premises (he traced the cultural history of the fork, the paperclip and the Post-it in The Evolution of Useful Things; in To Engineer Is Human, he chronicled human progress through engineering failures). By recollecting his old paper route, Petroski gives readers a warm, nostalgic riding tour of his youth and foreshadows the engineer-to-be in the boy who by nature relished the "simple mechanical pleasures," from the mechanics of a nun's habit to delivering a paper: "as every paperboy knows, the hardest thing in the world is to fold every paper perfectly and to flip it squarely onto the stoop from a speeding bike." (Mar.)