Memorable disasters inspire modern experiments.
The author of The Book of Wildly Spectacular Sports Science (2016) offers this lively presentation of descriptions, explanations, and simple experiments that demonstrate the problems that caused 20 engineering disasters. Organized chronologically from the collapse of the Colossus of Rhodes in 226 BCE to London’s “Fryscraper” built in 2013, this is an irreverent history of human hubris. Besides a wide range of spectacular collapses, his examples include a molasses flood, an oil spill, a lake accidentally drained, a plane too heavy to fly, a car too underpowered to scale hills, and, of course, the leaning tower in Pisa, the “unsinkable” Titanic, and the dancing Tacoma Narrows Bridge. Each failure is presented with a quick, single-page account, an exploration of “what went wrong,” and a feature called “turn back the clock” describing what people knew at the time and relevant engineering principles. Each is accompanied by an experiment or two illustrating the problem or principles. These are clearly laid out with materials, step-by-step methods, and a follow-up explanation. They use commonly available materials and for the most part could be done without adult supervision, though they often require a friend or a small group. Photos and cartoonlike illustrations complete the appealing package.
A new collection from an old hand at designing intriguing STEM activities that will entertain as well as enlighten. (Nonfiction. 9-14)