GETTING SUED AND OTHER TALES OF THE ENGINEERING LIFE by Richard L. Meehan

GETTING SUED AND OTHER TALES OF THE ENGINEERING LIFE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Intriguing autobiographical fragments at midcareer by a civil engineer of the traditionalist school. ""It was the Victorian image of civil engineering, the Panama Canal and the Brooklyn Bridge"" that attracted Meehan to an out-of-favor side of the profession at MIT in the late Fifties; he remains at heart convinced that engineers should be ""designers and builders, men of action"" (current environmental-impact-statement consulting aside). After standard rites of passage at MIT, an observer's view of engineering, corruption and politics in scandal-ridden Massachusetts, and a stint as a military engineer, Meehan was overcome by ""a New Englander's fancy for warm lush places in coral seas, for rum and coconuts . . . secret ruins overgrown with creepers and hibiscus. . . ."" In short order he found himself working on a dam project in northeast Thailand (""A Dam for Lam Pra Plerng""), where he discovered that elephants are useless for compressing soil and learned other cross-cultural lessons from his Thai counterparts. Another proposed dam took him high into the Chilean mountains (""Snowbound on the Rio Pangal"") and to the realization that design is art: the creation of a final arrangement that ""sings with deceiving simplicity and stuns with accuracy of effect."" That the dam was never built matters little; what counts is the ""spirit and potency"" of design itself. Meehan is hard to pigeonhole--as a rational engineer, he makes light of environmentalists' apocalyptic what-if fretting about nuclear plants built on earthquake fault lines; as a romantic (""the artisan recognizes the personality of earth and stone""), he reminds us that artifice brought forth Durham Cathedral while systematic knowledge spawned the L.A. freeways. But he writes amusingly (his attorney's office building is ""a new California missionary-style stucco and chicken wire tax write-off with an imitation tile roof""), and far surpasses his modest aim of showing that ""people and morals and delight and misery are all waiting to confront you"" whether you're an engineer or a village headman in the bush. Low-key, unpretentious, and readable--even for those firmly encamped in the other of the Two Cultures.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1981
ISBN: 0262630893
Publisher: MIT Press