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Pushing the Limits: New Adventures in Engineeringby Henry Petroski
Synopses & Reviews
In the ever increasing push for longer bridges, taller buildings, bigger stadiums, and grander projects of all kinds, engineers face new challenges that redefine our sense of both aesthetics and functionality. Pushing the Limits describes two dozen adventures in engineering that provide a fresh look at the past, a unique view of the present, and a telling glimpse into the future of the discipline and how it affects our lives.
Henry Petroski tells the stories of significant and daring enterprises — some familiar, some virtually unknown, and some that are still only dreams — in their historical and technological contexts. Among the achievements are Philadelphia?s landmark Benjamin Franklin Bridge, London?s incomparable Tower Bridge, and China?s ambitious Three Gorges Dam project. But pushing the limits of technology does not come without risk. Petroski also chronicles great technological disasters, such as the 1928 failure of California?s St. Francis Dam, the 1999 tragedy of the Texas A&M Bonfire, and the September 11, 2001, collapse of New York?s World Trade Center towers. He deals with other calamities as well, such as the 1994 earthquake that struck Southern California and the embarrassingly wobbly Millennium Bridge in London, which had to be shut down only three days after it opened.
The breadth and depth of Petroski?s erudition and his passionate interest in the art of design and in building have earned him the title of America?s poet laureate of technology, and his exploration of the complexity of what goes into design continues to stretch the imagination.
"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)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Rich pickings for architecture and engineering mavens." Kirkus Reviews
The Bard of Engineering — author of the critically acclaimed The Evolution of Useful Things and The Pencil — turns his strikingly observant eye from small everyday objects to large feats of engineering. 28 illustrations.
About the Author
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.
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