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Remaking the World


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About the Author

Henry Petroski is the Aleksandar S. Vesic Professor of Civil Engineering and Professor of History at Duke University, where he also serves as chairman of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. The author of seven previous books, he has received grants from the National Science Foundation and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Humanities Center.


Petroski, perhaps best known for The Pencil (LJ 3/1/90) and The Evolution of Useful Things (LJ 12/92), here collects columns written originally as essays for American Scientist, an engineering society publication. As such, the 18 selections, aimed at raising the reader's consciousness about how important and far-reaching engineering is to civilization and society, are accessible to a lay readers with an interest in technology and society. Several pieces are about particular engineers (e.g., Henry Robert, who wrote the Rules of Order, was first a military engineer) or engineering projects (the Channel Tunnel, the Ferris Wheel); others are provocative (the flaws of engineering software, the creep of technology). Always well written, though seldom off the "engineering is crucial!" soapbox, this is an excellent choice for general collections with a literate readership interested in technology‘and a good gift for the engineers on your Christmas list.‘Mark L. Shelton, Univ. of Massachusetts Medical Ctr., Worcester

In this roundup of columns from American Scientist, bestselling author Petroski, a professor of civil engineering at Duke Univ., exhibits the graceful style and flair for storytelling that he brought to The Pencil and Engineers of Dreams. In this volume, he deals with big projects such as the tunnel under the English Channel (Chunnel), the Golden Gate Bridge, Hoover Dam, the Panama Canal and the 1858 launch of the iron ship Great Eastern, which laid the Atlantic cable. He shows how creative design, inspired improvisation and technology translated raw idea into finished product. He celebrates well-known figures like George Ferris, who built the famous wheel for the 1893 Chicago world's fair, as well as neglected innovators such as Galveston, Tex., military engineer Henry Robert, best known for Robert's Rules of Order. Especially provocative is a cautionary essay on the potential dangers of misplaced reliance on computer software. He also argues that, according to provisions of Alfred Nobel's 1895 will, engineers should be eligible for the Nobel Prize. Petroski not only identifies the social and cultural context in which engineers operate but also convincingly dramatizes engineering as the triumph of human will, ingenuity and persistence. Photos. (Dec.)

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