To Forgive Design: Understanding Failure

Henry Petroski, Author
Henry Petroski. Harvard/Belknap, $27.95 (408p) ISBN 978-0-674-06584-0
Hardcover - 427 pages - 978-0-674-06889-6
Book - 427 pages - 978-0-674-06543-7
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"From ancient to modern times, the size of ships, the weight of obelisks, the height of cathedrals, the span of bridges…and the limits of everything have been defined, at least temporarily, by failure," Petroski writes in the first chapter of this sequel to 1992's To Engineer is Human. Petroski, Professor of Civil Engineering and History at Duke University, uses relatable metaphors to discuss concepts such as metal fatigue and how buildings, bridges, and roads deteriorate, in addition to the lengths engineers have gone to in an effort to mitigate catastrophe. Though his focus here is primarily on bridges, Petroski extends his analysis to include the sinking of the Titanic, the mid-flight explosion of TWA Flight 800, the Challenger tragedy, the Y2K computer programming crisis, and the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Each has its own unique set of human, mechanical, and engineering failures, and Petroski does a terrific job of identifying and communicating not only what went wrong, but what was learned from the failure and how that knowledge has since been put into practice. Fellow engineers and armchair scientists will get the most out of the book, but even the layman will find Petroski's study to be accessible, informative, and interesting. Photos. (Mar.)
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