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This collection of informative and pleasurable essays by Henry Petroski elucidates the role of engineers in shaping our environment in countless ways, big and small.In Remaking the World Petroski gravitates this time, perhaps, toward the big: the English Channel tunnel, the Panama Canal, Hoover Dam, the QE2, and the Petronas Twin Towers in Malaysia, now the tallest buildings in the world. He profiles Charles Steinmetz, the genius of the General Electric Company; Henry Martyn Robert, a military engineer who created Robert's Rules of Order; and James Nasmyth, the Scotsman whose machine tools helped shape nineteenth-century ocean and rail transportation. Petroski sifts through the fossils of technology for cautionary tales and remarkable twists of fortune, and reminds us that failure is often a necessary step on the path to new discoveries. He explains soil mechanics by way of a game of "rock, scissors, paper," and clarifies fundamental principles of engineering through the spokes of a Ferris wheel.Most of all, Henry Petroski continues to celebrate the men and women whose scrawls on the backs of envelopes have immeasurably improved our world.From the Hardcover edition.read more
Henry Petroski, professor of engineering at Duke University, may not be our era’s best writer of popular books about the history of technology, but I’d be hard-pressed to name another who’s so prolific, and – even more important – so consistently good. His seventeen books (so far) include two classics (To Engineer is Human and The Evolution of Useful Things) and one near-classic (The Pencil), but all of them are worth reading. Remaking the World, a collection of essays originally written for magazine publication, is no exception.Like those in its successor volume Pushing the Limits: Further Adventures in Engineering, the essays in Remaking the World were written to stand alone, and (for the most part) they stand alone in the book. They deal, variously, with success and failure, with person and object and process, with the particular and with the universal. An ode to the value of back-of-the-envelope calculations shares space with a history of the Golden Gate Bridge. The Ferris wheel – a wonder of the Gilded Age, unveiled at the Chicago world’s fair of 1893 – shares space with the Petronas Towers, built in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia, a century later. Some of the essays – notably a trio on Victorian engineering genius Isambard Kingdom Brunel, his immense steamship Great Eastern, and the economics of large passenger ships in general – interlock with one another. Others – particularly a set of case studies of fatally flawed designs – exist in dialogue with Petroski’s other published work. Unlike the case studies of technological failure in To Engineer is Human or of everyday technologies in The Evolution of Useful Things the essays collected here are not marshaled in order to present and elaborate on a single, unifying idea. The book as a whole thus, almost inevitably, makes less of an impact than (say) To Engineer is Human or The Pencil. The loss is modest, however, and the value of having these otherwise inaccessible essays available in convenient form far outweighs it. Precisely because they were written as stand-alones, they highlight one of Petroski’s most notable talents: the ability to clearly tell a complex story in limited space. The essays in this book deal with big concepts, important individuals, and major engineering achievements. There are multiple biographies of Brunel, for example, and at least one book devoted solely to the Great Eastern, but Petroski’s essays are the best short introductions to either subject I have ever read. Finishing one of them (or the equally good essays on the Golden Gate Bridge, the Ferris wheel, or the Petronas Towers), you have a sense that – although there is much more to learn about the subject – you’ve learned enough to claim a solid understanding of it. A book collecting nothing but Petroski’s essays on the history of engineers and engineering would, for that reason, make an exceptional textbook for an introductory course on the history of technology. Until some publisher has the sense to produce such a book, however, Remaking the World and its sequel are well worth seeking out – both for their historical content and for their insider’s view of how the engineering mind works.read more
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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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved