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Design Paradigms: Case Histories of Error and Judgment in Engineering [Paperback]

Henry Petroski
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

May 27 1994 0521466490 978-0521466493
From classical temples to twentieth century towers, engineers have learned more about design from failure than from success. The concept of error, according to the author of Design Paradigms, is central to the design process. As a way of explaining the enduring aspects of engineering design, Henry Petroski relates stories of some of the greatest engineering successes and failures of all time. These case studies, drawn from a wide range of times and places, from Ancient Greece and Rome to modern America, serve as paradigms of error and judgment in engineering design. By showing how errors were introduced in the design process and how they might be avoided, the book suggests how better quality and reliability might be achieved in designed devices, structures, and systems of all kinds. Clearly written, with striking illustrations, the book will appeal to engineering students, practicing engineers, historians of science and technology, and all those interested in learning about the process of design.

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Review

"This book is now on my list of required reading for all engineering students." IEEE Spectrum

"...draws on examples from the 4th century BC onwards to identify common features in engineering failures, and offers guidance on how to avoid failure while encouraging innovation...extremely well documented and illustrated...can be read by all those interested in engineering, not just structural engineers." New Scientist

"...nicely done and the case for using engineering history to comprehend the nature of design is well made...the general reader will be well served, especially because the case histories are so interesting and well presented in themselves..." Nature

"...Petroski makes the case for investigating classic and historical case studies rather than recent design failures, the analysis of which is often complicated by ongoing litigation and distortions or, even more critically, by court-imposed secrecy...provides a cogent argument for reintroducing engineering history..." Robert Mark, School of Architecture, Princeton University, Science

"...should be required reading for all engineering students and all practicing design professionals..." Journal of the Performance of Constructed Facilities

"...discusses several models to explain how errors are introduced in design and how designers can prevent similar mistakes from occurring. Case studies present historic and recent examples of engineering failures..." Civil Engineering

"...the anecdotal nature of the paradigms presented is intended to evoke associations with the real situations in which designers find themselves every day." Mechanical Engineering

"...students of all branches of engineering can learn from the case studies presented. Not only engineering students but also practicing engineers will learn from the book." Choice

"The intention of Petroski's book is to present an incontrovertible paradigmatic argument for the value of case histories, ranging from the ancient to the modern, in illuminating and elucidating the causes and results of human error in the design process, mostly of structures. The further stories, including those about many well-known bridge failures, will prove fascinating and intelligible to the non-technical reader." Times Higher Education Supplement

"Highly recommended." ASME International

Book Description

From classical temples to twentieth century towers, engineers have learned more about design from failure than from success. By showing how errors were introduced and how they might be avoided, this book suggests how better design quality and reliability may be achieved.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
The concept of failure is central to design process, and it is by thinking in terms of obviating failure that successful designs are achieved. Read the first page
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Concordance
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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3.7 out of 5 stars
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Most helpful customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Cannot write Oct. 25 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This author is mired in academic verbiage, and ruins an interesting story that might be worth a chapter in a better book
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Towards More Successful Development Nov. 24 1997
By Karen
Format:Paperback
I came across this title while researching the parallels between traditional professional engineering and systems engineering. Petroski makes a compelling case for us to formally study our failures in systems engineering - not for laying blame, but in order to continually improve our processes, assumptions, beliefs, methods, and thinking patterns. Using case studies from bridge building, ship building, and other construction feats, Petroski show us how errors in scalability, design changes, selective use of history, logic, and human factors can lead to disasterous consequences. If you care about public safety and want to see any industry progress to a real level of professionalism, read and study this work.
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By Chris
Format:Paperback
I've seen this book recommended from various sources but only recently picked up a copy for myself. I wish I had done so earlier! It does not contain anything novel and can be quite repetitive at times. But then again, I feel like that is essentially the message of the book. The author presents many examples throughout history where Engineers have forgotten the lessons of the past and proceeded to make the same mistakes (or different mistakes for the same reasons).

The book itself is very easy to read and provides several essential lessons for Engineers in any discipline. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in Engineering design or the history of Engineering (specifically it's failures!).
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A "Must Read" for Structural Engineers Aug. 23 2008
By Irfan A. Alvi - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I read this book when it first came out in 1994, and have just finished re-reading it.

I can attest that the lessons which emerge from Dr. Petroski's study of structural engineering failures have proved valuable throughout my career, particularly when designing bridges which pushed the envelope. Indeed, any engineer aiming to be innovative in any way needs to temper that laudable ambition with a serious and even somber study of how things have gone wrong in the past, and this book is an excellent vehicle for that purpose.

Beyond the study of engineering failure, as a fringe benefit, the book also provides nice discussion of important episodes from the history of structural engineering. Such historical perspective is usually lacking among engineers both in practice and academia. Yet this is a subject which engineers would ideally be exposed to throughout their careers, not just during the leisurely and retrospective years of retirement.

To give a balanced review, allow me to point out a few minor negatives. First, the writing style is sometimes a bit stuffy, and a more plainspoken style would have made the book more appealing. Second, there's a good bit of repetition throughout the book; shortening and focusing the book would have improved it. Third, the case studies mostly involve bridges; this will obviously please bridge engineers, but will reduce appeal for readers seeking a more diverse range of case studies.

In sum however, the book is an excellent and valuable contribution from Dr. Petroski, and we should be especially thankful that it exists considering the lack of literature on this important topic, especially at a scholarly level.

Highly recommended for bridge engineers and other structural engineers at all stages of their careers - indeed, a "must read."
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Must Read for Every Technical Professional... April 22 2006
By Rai Chowdhary - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Many technical professionals (and others as well) think technology has the answers and the solutions to many of the issues / failures we have experienced in the past. WRONG!!

Read this precious book to understand why.

Although somewhat dated (considerting we are in 2006) - the basic tenets still apply. Be forewarned - you need to read it with an open mind and a willingness to be brutally honest about your answers when the author poses some questions to you.

With such a paradigm, you will find the book full of value in understanding the types of errors we make as humans. Once you recognize these, preventing them can become feasible. But, just realizing that is not enough, you will need to change (which is very hard to do) some habits that the workplace has built into you over time.

Enjoy - and be error free...if you can, if you care...
3.0 out of 5 stars Good information well buried March 17 2012
By Mark H. Muehlhausen - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is the first Petroski book I've read. I was expecting something different. The cases are all valid design issues and are informative but there are too few. You have to dig through pages of lecture about how important engineering process is to get to the content of the case. It's repeated in each chapter. There is very little technical detail, just verbal explanations of failure types. As an old electronic engineer, I was hoping to learn something about civil engineering from this. It wasn't there. I do think engineering students need something to widen their viewpoints about design thinking. There's a learning curve of failed designs between school and proficiency. If I wrote a design process course, this would be the first 2 weeks reading. Then we'd get into the details. I can't say I'll read this again. But if I ran into an engineering student who didn't understand design process or why mistakes happen, I'd suggest it.
0 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Book for engineering philosophies classes March 24 2011
By DK - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Got this for my engineering 190 course on how errors and judgement's are how problems can be solved in the engineering world.
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