By Henry Petroski. Cambridge, Mass. Henry Petroski is in many ways the Stephen Jay Gould of civil engineering. Like Gould, Petroski is a respected academic in a technical field who has built a career as a public intellectual, largely by using history to render technical issues accessible to a broad audience. Like Gould, Petroski is not trained as a historian and relies heavily on secondary sources for his stories. Petroski also shares with Gould the habit of revisiting material that he has written about previously.
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By Henry Petroski. Cambridge, Mass. Henry Petroski is in many ways the Stephen Jay Gould of civil engineering. Like Gould, Petroski is a respected academic in a technical field who has built a career as a public intellectual, largely by using history to render technical issues accessible to a broad audience. Like Gould, Petroski is not trained as a historian and relies heavily on secondary sources for his stories.
Petroski also shares with Gould the habit of revisiting material that he has written about previously. To that end, he presents a series of case studies in the nature of engineering, moving gradually from technical to social factors. Along the way Petroski introduces many basic concepts for understanding technological change, such as invention, development, and systems.
In addition, he addresses themes often neglected by historians but of direct interest to engineers, including mathematical modeling of physical systems, failure analysis, and computer-aided design. Given the pedagogical origins of the book, it makes sense to evaluate its utility for the classroom. Although I have not tested the book in my own teaching, it seems promising for use in topical courses in the history of technology or technology and society, especially courses aimed at engineering students.
The early chapters succeed admirably in revealing the complex technical history and sophisticated design processes embodied in even the most mundane modern artifacts. Case studies of the fax machine and the Boeing make up the middle of the book, clearly illustrating how modern technologies operate within functionally integrated systems. The final chapters, however, are somewhat less successful. These examine social and political dimensions of technological systems, with discussions of water supply and sewers, bridges, and skyscrapers.
Overall, Petroski succeeds better at conveying technical than social complexity. Like most civil engineers today, Petroski is sensitive to environmental issues, but he treats environmentalism primarily as a source of additional technical criteria that engineers must include in the design process. Likewise, his examination of the politics of public works and social aspects of urban systems lacks sophistication.
Nevertheless, Petroski provides enough engaging examples of social influence to permit further elaboration in the classroom. As is to be expected of any general work aimed at a broad audience, specialists will no doubt have their quibbles with specific aspects of the case studies.
But overall the case studies are well researched, and Petroski makes no claims to definitive historical scholarship. Even for classroom use, however, I would like a better critical apparatus. Instead of notes, the book has a short bibliography for each chapter. These bibliographies seem more like lists of works consulted than aids to further research.
By defining engineering in this way, Petroski implicitly gives Access options available:.
Invention by Design
Each of these--along with the paper clip, pencil, zipper, fax machine, water-supply system, bridge and skyscraper--Petroski honors with a heavily illustrated chapter, each a glimpse into the workings of engineering design Ostensibly, written for intelligent laypersons to give some understanding of how we got to the technological world in which we now live, it will probably be read and enjoyed as much or even more by engineering and product designers. The book makes elegant connections between the design features of a variety of "engineering products. The reader is, as it were, trained to be an inquisitive designer.
Invention by Design: How Engineers Get from Thought to Thing,
Jan 17, Jennifer rated it really liked it. Pencil Points and Analysis. This is the central theme in his study To Engineer Is Human: And some of the examples he built chapters around d were positively painful. Never thought about the design of a paper clip. Quotations bg illustrations from patent applications are particularly fascinating and are used well. Engineering design — Social aspects. Inventin also explains that how politics is the major desiggn in any engineering project.
Invention by Design: How Engineers Get from Thought to Thing