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"From the Hardcover edition.
Henry Petroski is the Aleksandar S. Vesic Professor of Civil Engineering and a professor of history at Duke University. The author of eleven previous books, he lives in Durham, North Carolina.
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) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
"A fascinating potpourri of history, engineering, and imagination, all presented in the fluid, humane writing style that we have come to expect from this author." --The Washington Post Book World "A pleasure. . . . It is a measure of Mr. Petroski's skill and sensibility that his essays about structures made of steel and stone so frequently provide a sense of that large humanity, as well." --New York Sun "He writes clearly about complicated subjects, and provides lucid explanations and penetrating insights." --The New York Review of Books "Henry Petroski turns an expert eye on the technology--and economics and vanity--behind [building]. The most compelling chapters concern disasters, from the collapse to the World Trade Center to the whip-snapping death of the Tacoma Narrows bridge. These essays are elegantly written and consistently thought-provoking." --New Scientist "Henry Petroski has become the main emissary from the world of engineering to the rest of us. . . . He brings clarity and good sense to his subject, making the enigmatic world of things a little less mystifying." --Austin American-Statesman "Petroski writes . . . with the observant eye of an engineer and the imaginative heart of a novelist." --Los Angeles Times "An unlikely combination of mathematical brain power and a more irrational curiosity. . . . Petroski not only can put science in laymen's terms, but also can do so without killing its magic." --The Christian Science Monitor "Petroski . . . asks us to see the extraordinary in the ordinary." --Chicago Tribune "[There is] pleasure [in] seeing Henry Petroski's playful mind at work." --Scientific American
Petroski (civil engineering & history, Duke Univ.) emphasizes feats of structural engineering in this collection of essays from American Scientist. He makes a case for the art of engineering, especially as embodied by large-scale projects like bridges, spanning several centuries around the globe. Besides the Tower of London and the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, he covers engineers and unusual structures like the Texas A&M University bonfire and even the World Trade Center attacks. Within the length constraints, Petroski manages to discuss economics, aesthetics, and safety, as well as each project's details. A glossary is not included, but the detailed index serves some of that function. This book is more narrowly focused than the author's acclaimed The Evolution of Useful Things, but Petroski's readable style makes it accessible to technically minded lay readers. Recommended for academic architecture and engineering collections, as well as for larger public and special libraries. Sara Tompson, Packer Engineering Lib., Naperville, IL Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.