The Evolution of Useful Things ) again meets his usual high standard when it comes to writing about technology, but this collection of articles from

PUSHING THE LIMITS: New Adventures in Engineering

Henry Petroski, Author . Knopf $25 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4000-4051-3

Petroski (The Evolution of Useful Things ) again meets his usual high standard when it comes to writing about technology, but this collection of articles from American Scientist, some dating back to the early 1990s, never quite coheres as a unified text. The tendency of chapters to drift toward soft conclusions isn't disruptive in the first half of the book, devoted to bridges around the world, but the second half, which encompasses subjects ranging from the creation of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, to the destruction of the World Trade Center, becomes noticeably choppy, especially when Petroski attempts to wrap things up with millennial reflections that already feel dated. The book also fails to deliver on the promise of its title; though many of his examples, especially in the bridges section, pushed the limits of engineering in their day, they can hardly be called new. (One notable exception is a long chapter on China's planned Three Gorges Dam, which also demonstrates Petroski's skillfully light touch at travel writing.) But the most glaring flaw is the frustrating paucity of illustrations (only 29)—the meticulously detailed descriptive passages can go only so far in conveying a sense of awesome beauty. At his best, Petroski is a charming guide to the landmarks he admires, and it's a shame that the presentation falls short of his talent. (Sept. 23)

Reviewed on: 07/12/2004
Release date: 09/01/2004
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