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Why Buildings Fall Down: Why Structures Fail
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Such is our morbid fascination that this book is inevitably more attractive than one called “Why Buildings Stay Up”. That said, I think I have not only learned more about structural engineering than I would have done from a positive counterpart, but I have also learned vastly more about the other factors, human and natural, that influence the ultimate success or failure of structures.
The book is based on the same material as the late 1990s TV series of the same name, and having watched that series many of the incidents and issues were familiar to me. The advantage of the book is the ability to digest information at your own speed and refer back to earlier pages, but it has to be said that the TV series communicated some of the issues better, helped by animated graphics and by the better mutual support of both pictures and narrative.
Each chapter takes a topic, whether a human factor like the law, a type of construction such as the dome, or a cause of failure such as metal fatigue, and then illustrates the issues by consideration of a number of case studies, frequently including some notable successes as well as dramatic failures. In the case of failures the book always attempts to assess both the practical cause, and also any human cause, impact and implications.
The book is very well written, in an accessible style supported by some useful appendixes on structural engineering principles. However, sometimes the simple line drawings and verbal descriptions of a structure don’t manage to communicate a full understanding, and more sophisticated illustrations might have helped.
Mario Salvadori died in 1997 (at the good age of 90), and the surviving author, Matthys Levy updated the book in 2002. My feelings on the update are mixed: the chapter on terrorism, culminating with the collapse of the New York Trade Centre towers on September 11th 2001 is excellent; but why did the author not acknowledge the brilliant success of efforts to stabilise the Leaning Tower of Pisa in the late 1990s?
Overall I heartily recommend this book to anyone with a serious or lay interest in structural engineering, and the many complex human and natural issues which influence it.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 21 February 1997
We see all the time buildings working as they should (i.e., standing up and not collapsing), however, it is very interesting to read of some real life collapses. Salvadori does an excellant job of writing so that people without a technical background can understand why these structures failed. And he writes with such detail that engineers are not bored by lack of detail. Simpley explained, fully detailed, and thoroughly researched. Excellant book for anyone who is interested in buildings, structures, or failures!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 15 August 2012
Strictly speaking, the subject is why structures fall down but the title is an inevitable consequence of Salvadori's previous work -- `Why Buildings Stand Up'. This later publication could be described as a compendium of disasters with the focus on buildings both ancient and modern, and bridges of the more recent past. Each chapter addresses different events or aspects of failure and the text is accompanied by numerous hand-draw sketches which, although rudimentary, are an extremely effective visual aid to understanding. For those seeking a deeper appreciation of the issues addressed, there are four useful appendices which whilst more technical, will not be a challenge to the average reader.

The authors' have succeeded in their intention of explaining structural failures in lay language and the book should also be recommended reading for the younger structural engineer and architect. The prophecy that those who do not learn from the mistakes of the past are destined to repeat them has a definite resonance in respect of structures and it is unfortunate that advances in computing and materials technologies have not eliminated the occurrence of failures.

This book is probably best read in stages otherwise there is a danger of disaster fatigue, but I think anyone with an interest in this subject will enjoy the content and gain a better understanding of why structures fail. There are many other technical subjects that could benefit from this approach to enlightening the non-professional, but unfortunately authors such as Levy and Savadori seem few and far between.

In my opinion, `Why Structures Fall Down' deserves a five star rating as it is both enjoyable and educational.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 10 January 2010
This book is a follow up to Mario Salvadori's "Why Buildings Stand Up" and unfortunately suffers from the same weaknesses.

Like its predecessor line drawings are used when photographs of complete buildings would convey so much more information. Like its predecessor valuable space is wasted by the inclusion of a totally irrelevant chapter, this time on "The Politics of Destruction".

The good parts are good but I can't help feeling that there is far more to say on this subject than is included in this book. Oh, and apparently Anglesey is in England (it wasn't the last time I was there)!!!
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on 9 August 2010
Written in a style that will keep both technical and non technical readers entertained, the authors talk the reader through the different chapaters in in a light and friendly manner. The book explains the roots behind several major structural failures often showing that the problems were deeper than simple engineering cock ups and could be traced back to political, financial or poor management decicions. I enjoyed the plentiful hand sketches explaining the different failures although i suspect a non engineer might benefit from some actual photographs which would make things clearer.

I found this much better than it's predecessor 'Why Buildings Stand Up' which was a bit too vague for my liking. I think Salvadori hits the nail on the head with his quote from his mother in law after she read 'Why Buildings Stand Up' - "This is nice, but i would be much more interested in reading why they fall down" - And she was right.
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on 29 May 1998
This was a great introduction to the fundamentals of building science - understanding why things don't work is a great help in understanding why they do. Each chapter discusses one example of something that went wrong and explains another reason why structures can fail.
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on 17 July 2008
This is excellent reading if you ever have trouble staying awake at night :-) Actually, it is excellent reading in general. Learning from other peoples mistakes is so much better than learning from your own.
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on 10 January 2015
one of my favourite books I often buy it for friends, explains common complex issues and their consequences simply - a must for the aspiring engineer
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on 7 February 2014
I was struck by the title of this book.
I bought it for my son as one of his Christmas presents. He was pleased to receive it.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Having read 'Why buildings stand up' I immediately searched this one out. This book continues to be an excellent read for technical and non-technical persons who have an interest in structures. Fascinating!
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