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Design pervades our lives. Everything from drafting a PowerPoint presentation to planning a state-of-the-art bridge embodies this universal human activity. But what makes a great design? In this compelling and wide-ranging look at the essence of invention, distinguished engineer and author Henry Petroski argues that, time and again, we have built success on the back of failure--not through easy imitation of success.

Success through Failure shows us that making something better--by carefully anticipating and thus averting failure--is what invention and design are all about. Petroski explores the nature of invention and the character of the inventor through an unprecedented range of both everyday and extraordinary examples--illustrated lectures, child-resistant packaging for drugs, national constitutions, medical devices, the world's tallest skyscrapers, long-span bridges, and more. Stressing throughout that there is no surer road to eventual failure than modeling designs solely on past successes, he sheds new light on spectacular failures, from the destruction of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in 1940 and the space shuttle disasters of recent decades, to the collapse of the World Trade Center in 2001.

Petroski also looks at the prehistoric and ancient roots of many modern designs. The historical record, especially as embodied in failures, reveals patterns of human social behavior that have implications for large structures like bridges and vast organizations like NASA. Success through Failure--which will fascinate anyone intrigued by design, including engineers, architects, and designers themselves--concludes by speculating on when we can expect the next major bridge failure to occur, and the kind of bridge most likely to be involved.

Published: Princeton University Press on Aug 7, 2013
ISBN: 9781400849116
List price: $29.95
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Good title, but the rest of the book was a failure for me.I had assumed it would advance a thesis with many examples about how success had emerged from failure. It's actually more about technology history and engineering, a loosely-connected set of chapters based on some talks he did.Although I'm usually interested in a lot of obscure information, the author's writing style generally didn't engage me."The evolution of a few technologies: From presentations to bridges" would have been a more accurate title.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I was expecting an exploration of the role of failure in improving designs and how to apply the lessons we learn when we don't succeed. The amount of discussion on failure itself in this book could be condensed into a pamphlet. Instead, the author devotes the first chapter to the evolution of Powerpoint, starting with cave paintings, and numerous examples of failed structures with a paragraph or two following each example essentially saying "and they learned not to do that again". I would recommend this book for people looking for examples to support their own research into failure, but don't expect to come away from this with any new insight.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.

Reviews

Good title, but the rest of the book was a failure for me.I had assumed it would advance a thesis with many examples about how success had emerged from failure. It's actually more about technology history and engineering, a loosely-connected set of chapters based on some talks he did.Although I'm usually interested in a lot of obscure information, the author's writing style generally didn't engage me."The evolution of a few technologies: From presentations to bridges" would have been a more accurate title.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I was expecting an exploration of the role of failure in improving designs and how to apply the lessons we learn when we don't succeed. The amount of discussion on failure itself in this book could be condensed into a pamphlet. Instead, the author devotes the first chapter to the evolution of Powerpoint, starting with cave paintings, and numerous examples of failed structures with a paragraph or two following each example essentially saying "and they learned not to do that again". I would recommend this book for people looking for examples to support their own research into failure, but don't expect to come away from this with any new insight.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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