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Philip Nobel: What makes things break, 21 February 2013

To Forgive Design: Understanding Failure 
by Henry Petroski.
Harvard, 410 pp., £19.95, March 2012, 978 0 674 06584 0
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... the measure of engineering failure or success. Fifty people are killed off in the first chapter of Henry Petroski’s To Forgive Design: Understanding Failure when a plane crashes en route to Buffalo. Thirteen hundred or more died when the levees failed in New Orleans. The number of victims grows with each example: the earthquake in Haiti; the collapse of ...

The point of it all

Asa Briggs, 25 April 1991

The Pencil: A History 
by Henry Petroski.
Faber, 434 pp., £14.99, November 1990, 0 571 16182 0
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... for the pencil what Wilson did for the pen, although more ambitiously and at far greater length. Petroski goes further than Wilson in claiming that once we know ‘the story of the pencil in the world’ we will know much also about engineering, including both ‘the inescapable business of technology’ and its ‘mythical proportions’. ‘To reflect on ...

Sock it to me

Elizabeth Spelman: Richard Sennett, 9 October 2003

Respect: The Formation of Character in an Age of Inequality 
by Richard Sennett.
Allen Lane, 288 pp., £20, January 2003, 9780713996173
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... his research assistants have fudged their homework: surely if Sennett had read the civil engineer Henry Petroski’s The Evolution of Useful Things (or other parts of the Petroski corpus) he wouldn’t refer to this lover of bridges and books, post-its and paper clips, as ‘the computer technologist’. Still, it’s ...

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