To Forgive Design: Understanding Failure by Henry Petroski - review by Colin Mcswiggen

Colin Mcswiggen

Water under the Bridge

To Forgive Design: Understanding Failure


Harvard University Press 410pp £19.95

The cover of my review copy of To Forgive Design has a vaguely gustatory theme. The photo on the front shows the inside of an egg carton, with one egg cracked; on the back, there’s an effusive blurb comparing structural engineering to, of all things, dentistry. So it seems somehow appropriate to mention that when I first sat down to read the book, I had just had a severely humiliating experience while trying to eat a sandwich.

The cause of the accident lay in a complex interplay of contributing factors: ketchup-soaked bun, slippery deli meat, favourite T-shirt. Henry Petroski takes a broad enough view of his subject that I imagine he’d consider my sandwich a worthy object of analysis. After reading his extensive case studies of engineering

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