Thursday, October 1, 2009

To Engineer is Human - Henry Petroski

Perhaps one of my favorite non-fiction books, Henry Petroski looks at a very different aspect of engineering that has not really been touched on before; the role of failure in design. In fact, he goes as far as to say that failure is necessary to have a successful design. It’s a seemingly depressing book, if you were to judge it from the writing. But once you really start diving in, you will find a wealth of theories, stories, and real engineering concepts.

He looks at the design and creation of art, buildings, sculpture, bridges, cars, buses and even literature, through Oliver Wendell Holmes magnificent account of the Deacon’s Masterpiece or the Wonderful One-Hoss Shay. He looks at the unexpected way life happens, and proposes that accidents are more than just accidents; they play a vital role in design and construction of anything man has ever tried to do.

As for the writer and his worldview, he hints several times that he might be a Christian, but as it is a technical book, he understandably leaves God completely out of the picture. The worldview of the book is very earth-based, and is completely grounded in a science realm. Everything in the book seems to be written from a biblical worldview, but there is just no way to know for sure.

Over all, I thought it was a very well-written book, and the author seems to know what he is talking about. Perhaps the best part about it is when he talks about when he was a student, and was filled with fear of failing. But what he essentially says is that is the very fear of doing something wrong or failing that drives us to continue on and work harder. I think this is a great book for anyone who likes technical books and a must-read for anyone going into engineering or science related fields.