Henry Petroski and “To Engineer is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design”

I dedicate this book to Henry Petroski.

His book “To Engineer is Human:  The Role of Failure is Successful Design” is a book that literally changed my life.   Published in 1982, it has many editions.


This book is available at sensible bookstore everywhere.   Amazon.ca describes it as follows:

“How did a simple design error cause one of the great disasters of the 1980s – the collapse of the walkways at the Kansas City Hyatt Regency Hotel? What made the graceful and innovative Tacoma Narrows Bridge twist apart in a mild wind in 1940? How did an oversized waterlily inspire the magnificent Crystal Palace, the crowning achievement of Victorian architecture and engineering? These are some of the failures and successes that Henry Petroski, author of the acclaimed “The Pencil,” examines in this engaging, wonderfully literate book. More than a series of fascinating case studies, “To Engineer is Human” is a work that looks at our deepest notions of progress and perfection, tracing the fine connection between the quantifiable realm of science and the chaotic realities of everyday life.”


He published a new book in 2008.

Success through failure:  the paradox of design  


Here is a link to a ten minute video that was presented at Duke University in 2014.  In it Henry Petroski talks about the role of engineers in our society and discusses why some designs eventually fail. In his book, “To Forgive Design,” Prof. Petroski looks at headline-making failures like the 1940 Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse, the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion, and the Deep Water Horizon oil spill. This interview, conducted at the Washington Duke Inn in Durham, North Carolina, is part of Book TV’s College Series.


Here is a link to one hour video where he talked about the book in April 2006 at Vanderbilt University.   “The Paradox of Design: Success through Failure,” by Henry Petroski, Aleksander S. Vesic Professor of Civil Engineering and Professor of History, Duke University.

The Youtube link is   ”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HzMZr2OA0IU






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To the extent possible under law, Jennifer Kirkey has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to Engineering and Technology in Society - Canada, except where otherwise noted.

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