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Engineering is one of the least understood professions. Most people envision engineers as math-loving geeks with an affinity for pocket protectors. But what do they do? What is their role in society? Petroski (civil engineering, Duke Univ.) has written several successful books (To Engineer Is Human) that attempt to demystify the engineering profession to the general public. Here, he specifically compares scientists and engineers, drawing clear examples from both current and historical projects. He notes that while both groups often work together, their outlooks are fundamentally different. While scientists have identified problems like global warming and made scientific breakthroughs, it will take engineers to apply those discoveries to solving the problems. Verdict Entertaining and informative, Petroski's book will be most helpful for prospective engineers and readers wanting to learn more about engineers in general.-William Baer, Georgia Inst. of Technology Lib., Atlanta (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
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For a quarter-century now, Duke University's Petroski has replaced Samuel Florman as the foremost American civil engineer explaining to lay audiences the nature of engineering and its crucial role in improving the world. Petroski has long been outraged by the persistent elevation of scientists over engineers in terms of intelligence and creativity. Yet none of Petroski's 14 books on technology has argued so aggressively as his newest that engineers do not merely apply what scientists discover. Instead, engineers seek the most appropriate solution out of several to any engineering problem-not the supposedly single solution requiring diligence rather than depth. Analyzing both historical and contemporary examples, from climate change to public health, Petroski shows how science often overlooks structural, economic, environmental and aesthetic dimensions that routinely challenge engineers. Moreover, he says, sometimes science trails technology, as when engineers had to design the first moon landing vehicles before scientists learned its surface composition. Far from being hostile toward science, Petroski pleads for continued cooperation between science and engineering. When, as Petroski laments, even President Obama has sometimes omitted engineering in touting science, this book could hardly be more timely. Illus. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Petroski's most recent book presents many interesting stories and sidelights in engineering, from the role of risk in our lives to alternate energy sources for our future. Petroski (civil engineering, history, Duke Univ.), a prolific writer (e.g., The Toothpick, CH, Apr'08, 45-4352; Success through Failure, CH, Nov'06, 44-1549), asks thought-provoking questions such as what sort of innovations (e.g., the electric starter, the national highway system) guaranteed that the automobile would become ubiquitous in modern society. Unfortunately, in spite of these interesting passages, the theme of the book is unclear at best. The subtitle hints at a theme exploring the contributions needed by engineers to help solve our global problems, which does comprise a major portion of the book, yet, the author's stated goal is to clarify the difference between scientists and engineers. Too often, both theses come across as an apologetic for engineers, with a strong undercurrent of defensiveness against a perceived public reverence for scientists. Overall, an almost condescending attitude toward scientists detracts from another stated theme of how various professionals (engineers, scientists, economists, politicians, et al.) can all work together to solve the world's major technological problems. Summing Up: Optional. General readers. T. Timmons University of Arkansas--Fort Smith
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
In his latest book, the prolific Petroski is animated by an identity problem engineers have vis-à-vis scientists. The media and public tend to conflate roles that merge in some respects but starkly diverge in others. Rocket science exemplifies the confusion: the physics of spaceflight were solved in principle centuries before chemical and mechanical engineers achieved it in practice. Petroski's basic idea is this: Engineers do not need to imagine the unimaginable; they need to imagine the manageable. In some of these 14 reflective essays, he elaborates in the context of particular building projects, recounts inventions by scientists who lapsed into engineering, and cautions green-energy enthusiasts on the economic trade-offs and design compromises inherent in any technology. In other chapters, he questions research-and-development linearity in technological progress, arguing by examples that engineers often create something that works (the airplane) before scientists figure out how it works. With customary acuity and variety, Petroski is sure to please his established readership with these interesting disquisitions on technology.--Taylor, Gilbert Copyright 2009 Booklist