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am 19. Februar 1998
This book has an interesting goal: To explain engineering failures. But instead of an in-depth failure analysis of the Hyatt hotel, Tacoma Narrows Bridge, and buses, the reader gets the same simple ideas repeated again and again. The Hyatt hotel disaster is mentioned in detail three times before its chapter. That chapter just retells the story and adds little value or insight. This book needs better organization and more real detail and in-depth analysis.
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am 13. Juni 2000
I should begin by saying that I like this book, that I enjoy Mr. Petroski's writing style, and agree with his premise -- that we stand to learn more by studying a single failure than a thousand successes. Mr. Petroski makes an ample case for this through the judicious use of historic failures, some of which are more historic than others (one example, from ancient Greece, involves methods of storing marble columns).
To his credit, Mr. Petroski's writing style is approachable by non-engineers, a feat that is probably worth at least one star all by itself. But it is a shortcoming that considerable detail has been sacrificed, perhaps in an effort to make the text palatable to a non-technical audience. The resulting text glosses over mechanical reasons for the design flaws under consideration. In some instances, such details are probably not all that important. To be fair, lengthy technical explanations about collapsed bridges, broken ships or fractured colums might render this book even less marketable than it is (at present, it hovers below 14,000th on Amazon's sales ranking). In those cases, the omission simply makes the account less satisifying to the overly curious reader.
But that is not always the case, and some examples would have benefitted from more detailed explanations for two reasons. First, since the book is about learning from mistakes, it would have been valuable to understand the mistake itself. That knowledge would help the reader appreciate how subsequent engineers evaluated a problem, identifed its cause and avoided repeating the mistake in analogous situations. Second, and more troubling, some omissions are confusing. For instance, the Challenger disaster is compared to the aforementioned Greek column problem. In the former, a third O-ring had been added to the shuttle engine, in the latter a third brace used to hold up the columns, and Mr. Petroski offers this as a "red flag" that should have alerted NASA engineers to the need to reevaluate the whole system. I'm no engineer, but my understanding of what caused the failure of the shuttle's third O-ring is different in kind from the problem associated with third brace used in the storage of marble columns.
On balance, however, these are not fatal flaws. Mr. Petroski's book is worth reading by anyone who rides an elevator, works in a skyscraper or drives across a bridge. And his central point -- that system modifications justify a reevaluation of the entire system for unintended design problems -- is one that should be taken to heart by engineers and non-engineers alike.
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am 1. Juni 2000
I have to admit that I am a fan of the author's works, so this review may be biased.
I agree with previously posted reviews here that this work is repetative and covers engineering failures at a very high level. However, I believe that this is an important work for those that do any type of complex design or work with designs.
I am not an engineer -- I'm an information systems professional who believes that professionals should be able to review failures, even those of other professions, to better address risk in future projects. The author does a great job of introducing this concept in this book's preface:
"...I believe that an understanding and appreciation of engineers and engineering can be gotten without an engineering or technical education.... I believe that the concept of failure - mechanical and structural failure in the context of this discussion - is central to unerstanding engineering, for engineering design has as its first and foremost objective the obviation of failure. Thus the colossal disasters that do occur are ultimately failures of design, but the lessons learned form those disasters can do more to advance engineering knowledge than all the successful machines and structures in the world."
Take the word engineering out of the above quote and insert any profession there and the quote still works.
I found particularly erie the background on the Comet, the first commercial jet aircraft. In the the chapter on Forensic Engineering, Petroski tells of a early Nevil Shute novel, _No Highway_, in which Shute tells a very, very similar _fictional_ story about a failed commercail aircraft called the Reindeer. I did not know that Shute was an aero engineer working for de Haviland at the same time as the Comet design. Shute is best known for his work _On the Beach_.
Of interest to other information systems professions is the chapter entitled From Slide Rull to Computer: Forgetting How It Used to be Done.
The bibliography of 11 pages may also be of interest to anyone researching this subject.
This Petroski work is a good introduction in to his other works, as well as the topic of failure analysis....especially if you aren't an engineer.
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am 12. Juni 2000
To Engineer is Human is a surprisingly relevant book, despite being 15 years old now. Some of the examples may tax the memories of younger engineers and engineering students, but that's exactly the point of this book, to emphasize the nature of engineering: improving what has already been done in the past.
I, too, found the repetitive references to a limited number of examples tiring; I suspect this was done because Petroski had prior knowledge of these case studies and wished to minimize his research by drawing on what he knew about before writing. As an amateur historian of technology, I was also disappointed that few earlier historical examples were treated in any depth, the Crystal Palace being a notable exception.
The book is an easy read. Henry Petroski's prose is easy to grasp and flows well, holding the reader's interest, despite the repetition.
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am 28. Juni 1997
Why do buildings and bridges suddenly collapse, or why do airplanes fall out
of the sky ? Even though since the start of the industrial revolution the
relative number of disastrous accidents has gone down, it is still a daily

Some great examples are given (most prominently the walkway of a Houston
hotel that collapsed during the opening ceremony) with pictures and detailed
analysis. Great stuff even for non civil-engineers since with some
imagination you may learn some more general design lessons.

The editorial side of the book is less impressing, most facts and
interpretations are repeated 3 or 4 times throughout the book (excluding the
introduction and back flap) so I never got further than 3 quarters into it,
preventing myself from another deja vu.

In any way, a veryimportant and useful read.
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am 16. November 1998
This book left me a little dissapointed, Petroski had a full tank of gas and only drove around the block. His use of countless examples over does his simpil thisis, that mistakes happen. "To Engineer Is Human," should have been a great chapter, but not a book. The book does have a great flow to it. Petroski wrights in a very easy, simple, entertaining way. The dissapointment of Petroski is that he fails on subject, which should not have happened from a Civil Engineering professor at duke.
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am 9. Dezember 2015
... nur etwas duenn im Inhalt. Ich meine, die Beispiele und die Erklaerungen daran anlehnend sind ganz gut auch fuer den Laien verstaendlich, nur eben hab' ich, als einer der seit fast zwei Jahrzehnten technische Arbeit macht, nicht sehr viel neue Einsichten daraus gewonnen. Haette meine Schwester (die Deutsch als Fremdsprache unterrichtet) das Buch glesen und rezensiert, haett's vielleicht mehrere Sterne gegeben.
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am 14. September 1996
Anyone who has ever wondered why things like bridges and airplanes can't be built without falling down will find out why in this book.
A fascinating and informative book.
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am 19. Juli 1999
Can you help me connect with the makers of the Video by the same title......To Engineer is Human? The company is Films Inc. PMI
Brad Flack John Deere Harvester
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