Rich pickings for architecture and engineering mavens. (29 illustrations)

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PUSHING THE LIMITS

NEW ADVENTURES IN ENGINEERING

A survey of bridges, dams, and other innovative civil-engineering projects emblematic of mankind’s ongoing compulsion to pit technological ingenuity against the seemingly impossible.

Continuing his long-established preeminence for winnowing astounding facts from both simple and complex scenarios (Small Things Considered, 2003, etc.), Petroski connects seemingly random examples of engineering risk, followed by varying degrees of success or failure, with their common element of hubris. The subtitle is clumsy and misleading: the narrative ranges well back into the 19th century for examples and uses the massive collapse of California’s St. Francis Dam, which killed hundreds in 1928, as the prime illustration of Petroski’s principle that “a great failure is the perfect counterexample to a hubristic hypothesis.” But there are also intriguing analyses of lesser known recent projects, such as Britain’s amazingly innovative Gateshead Drawbridge over the river Tyne, popularly known as the “Eyeblink Bridge,” and a wobbly pedestrian bridge across the Thames that proved to its builders what they should have established in advance: a majority of people forced onto a restricted walkway will inevitably fall into step like an army. Was hubris involved in conceiving and building the World Trade Center structures? The mainstream and subsidiary theories of what really led to the fatal “pancaking” of the upper floors onto lower ones on 9/11, Petroski states, still elude formal proof to this day. And in an illuminating discussion based on a recent visit to China’s ongoing Great Gorges Dam project on the Yangtze, the author gives Chinese engineers and bureaucrats good marks for understanding the formidable problems involved and is cautiously optimistic about its outcome, save for the ultimate environmental impact, which remains beyond realistic projection. “It is human nature to build upon successes with a bravado that can be checked only by tragedy,” Petroski somewhat chillingly asserts.

Rich pickings for architecture and engineering mavens. (29 illustrations)

Pub Date: Sept. 23, 2004

ISBN: 1-4000-4051-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2004

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An intriguing meditation on the nature of the universe and our attempts to understand it that should appeal to both...

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SEVEN BRIEF LESSONS ON PHYSICS

Italian theoretical physicist Rovelli (General Relativity: The Most Beautiful of Theories, 2015, etc.) shares his thoughts on the broader scientific and philosophical implications of the great revolution that has taken place over the past century.

These seven lessons, which first appeared as articles in the Sunday supplement of the Italian newspaper Sole 24 Ore, are addressed to readers with little knowledge of physics. In less than 100 pages, the author, who teaches physics in both France and the United States, cogently covers the great accomplishments of the past and the open questions still baffling physicists today. In the first lesson, he focuses on Einstein's theory of general relativity. He describes Einstein's recognition that gravity "is not diffused through space [but] is that space itself" as "a stroke of pure genius." In the second lesson, Rovelli deals with the puzzling features of quantum physics that challenge our picture of reality. In the remaining sections, the author introduces the constant fluctuations of atoms, the granular nature of space, and more. "It is hardly surprising that there are more things in heaven and earth, dear reader, than have been dreamed of in our philosophy—or in our physics,” he writes. Rovelli also discusses the issues raised in loop quantum gravity, a theory that he co-developed. These issues lead to his extraordinary claim that the passage of time is not fundamental but rather derived from the granular nature of space. The author suggests that there have been two separate pathways throughout human history: mythology and the accumulation of knowledge through observation. He believes that scientists today share the same curiosity about nature exhibited by early man.

An intriguing meditation on the nature of the universe and our attempts to understand it that should appeal to both scientists and general readers.

Pub Date: March 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-18441-3

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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NO ONE IS TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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