REMAKING THE WORLD by Henry Petroski

REMAKING THE WORLD

Adventures in Engineering
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A disappointingly flat collection of musings on engineering history. Petroski's concern, as in previous works such as The Pencil (1990), is the interdependence of engineering and society--the role of engineers in shaping the world we live in, but also the fact that engineering's achievements are driven not purely by technology but by economics, politics, and culture. But in demonstrating these truths through chronicles of great engineered projects and portraits of interesting engineers like Isambard Kingdom Brunel, he largely leaves out the ingredient that would really enlighten the reader--the engineering itself. ``The tapering at the top of the building demanded some especially tricky structural engineering,'' Petroski hints, with regard to Malaysia's Petronas Twin Towers, the world's tallest. But he leaves it at that, satisfied to provide a sketchy account of the building's materials and facilities, and a slight chronology of the project. Similarly, ``improvements in tunneling, such as the chore of getting rid of the soil,'' would seem to be a main topic in the history of the Channel Tunnel, but that phrase appears merely as a transition in Petroski's lifeless parade of 19th-century tunnel plans. Without using his tantalizing examples--pioneering soil mechanicist Karl Terzaghi and the rise and decline of the transatlantic steamship--to explain any engineering principles, they remain little more than aimless encyclopedia entries. Perhaps this is because they were written for a scientifically oriented audience (most appeared in American Scientist), with the intention of highlighting the historical and social context. Still, only occasionally, as in a chapter using the various uses of wireless communication to illustrate the unpredictable evolution of technology, do they seem to ascend above the assembled facts to a salient idea. Petroski is a little petulant about the respect engineering gets (as from the executors of Alfred Nobel's bequest), but he's squandered an opportunity to propagate a real sense of the science and labor of builders and inventors. (22 illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: Dec. 17th, 1997
ISBN: 0-375-40041-9
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1997




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