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Pushing the Limits: New Adventures in…

Pushing the Limits: New Adventures in Engineering

by Henry Petroski

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As a reader with little knowledge of engineering, this book was a wonderful introduction to the challenges of construction and what engineers accomplish. Each chapter tells a story of engineering challenges and failures, which makes it easy for a reader to get involved. The first half of the book covers bridges as they are some of the most recognizable civil engineering structures and then moves to skyscrapers, dams and ends with what lays ahead. This is a book that would work for anyone who is curious about how the great structures of the world came into being and what lies ahead. ( )
  katekf | May 23, 2011 |
I try and read everything by Henry Petroski! ( )
  Chris177 | Feb 19, 2009 |
A collection of essays originally written for American Scientist, this book falls into two roughly equal halves: One about bridges, past and present, and the other about other aspects of engineering.

For readers who aren't civil engineers, the "Bridges" section works well as an informal introduction to their seemingly endless variety and to the complexities of balancing structure, function, and aesthetics. It's particularly refreshing in that it covers bridges that readers will be unfamiliar with or that (if they are familiar with them) will known relatively little about (Tower Bridge in London, for example).

The second section of the book draws it strength from eclecticism rather than unity. It includes (among other things) biographies of architect/engineers Fazlur Khan and Santiago Caltrava, a tour of the Three Gorges Dam project in China, and three case studies of structures that failed with lethal consequences: the World Trade Center towers, the Texas A&M bonfire, and the St. Francis Dam. The eclectic mix of topics works to the book's advantage here, as the juxtaposition of seemingly unrelated topics highlights unexpected relationships. Khan, to cite just one example, pioneered the "tubular" skyscraper design that made possible the building of (and hastened the collapse of) the Twin Towers.

Not all of these essays work equally well, but what works and what doesn't work will vary from reader to reader. I found the Three Gorges chapter to be too much celebratory travelogue and too little analysis, and the chapter on fuel cells to be a useful primer on a too-little-understood technology. The chapter on the bonfire, which I found engrossing, may strike those who aren't students of technological disasters as too much about too little.

Regardless of opinions of individual essays, however, anyone with even a mild interest in technology--especially civil engineering--is likely to find this book engrossing. ( )
  ABVR | Nov 21, 2006 |
This book is a worthwhile addition to Petroski's accounts of adventures in engineering. His many essays on the possibilities of gutsy achievement in large scale engineering is leavened by cautionary tales of overconfidence and hubris. His stories are especially enlivened by his lacing some of his personal experiences with encountering the structures with erudite discussions of the technical challenges faced by the engineers and sometimes lyrical peans to the beauty of the artifacts they had created.

I especially appreciated his chapter on his visit to the Three Gorges--a place I hope to visit soon. And the one about London's Millennium Bridge and the Wheel was tops too.

On the other hand, it is apparent that the book is rather unevenly done. It is a collection of essays that do not tie together very well. The chapter on fuel cells near the end of the book seems quite out of place and pedantic to boot. And while the book has 28 illustrations, most of them are pretty cheesy--it really needs more and better pictures.

But overall, I enjoyed the book and I'll be using it to enhance my visits to some of the same places that he describes so well. ( )
1 vote DonSiano | Oct 20, 2006 |
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"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."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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