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Normal Accidents: Living with High Risk Technologies (Princeton Paperbacks) Paperback – 17 Oct 1999


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Product details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; Updated edition with a New afterword and a new postscript by the author edition (17 Oct 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691004129
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691004129
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 15.5 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 313,200 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

"[Normal Accidents is] a penetrating study of catastrophes and near catastrophes in several high-risk industries. Mr. Perrow ... writes lucidly and makes it clear that `normal' accidents are the inevitable consequences of the way we launch industrial ventures.... An outstanding analysis of organizational complexity."--John Pfeiffer, The New York Times

"[Perrow's] research undermines promises that `better management' and `more operator training' can eliminate catastrophic accidents. In doing so, he challenges us to ponder what could happen to justice, community, liberty, and hope in a society where such events are normal."--Deborah A. Stone, Technology Review

"Normal Accidents is a testament to the value of rigorous thinking when applied to a critical problem."--Nick Pidgeon, Nature

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
Our first example of the accident potential of complex systems is the accident at the Three Mile Island Unit 2 nuclear plant near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on March 28, 1979. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By T. D. Welsh TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 12 Jan 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book's impact, for me, consists of the insight that people are part of the systems they build and operate. Because "to err is human", everyone from designers to operators makes mistakes from time to time. In complex systems, such mistakes can be expected to result in a steady stream of component failures, malfunctions, and accidents - hence the book's provocative and memorable title.
After a very readable introduction, the author examines six important areas of technology (nuclear power, petrochemical plants, aircraft and airways, marine accidents, dams and mines, and "exotics" - space exploration, weapons of mass destruction, and recombinant DNA research). He plots these on two dimensions - complexity and coupling - and comes to the unsurprising conclusion that complex, tightly-coupled systems are bad news. Complexity means that unexpected accidents will happen, and tight coupling means that when they do happen, they will touch off further problems too quickly for human intervention.
First published in 1984, the book shows its age in some ways, and the author has updated it somewhat with an Afterword and a Postscript on the Y2K problem.
It would be hard to read even the first chapter without feeling dismay at the apparent gaping weakneses of the systems described. It looks as if the greatest source of trouble in nuclear power systems, for example, is the routine failure of valves controlling the flow of water through pipes! True, the water may be at hundreds of degrees Centigrade, loaded with chemical contaminants, and even radioactive - but surely this is 19th century (or, at worst, early 20th century) technology?
Then there is the ubiquitous evidence of human inadequacy.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 27 Oct 1997
Format: Paperback
I specified this book as one of (the better of) two choices for supplementary reading in a university-level engineering course, and I'm dismayed that it's currently in this precarious print status. The book is an excellent--compelling and comprehensible-- explanation of the inherent risk of failure of tightly-coupled complex systems, in other words, the world we have created around ourselves. Engineers particularly need this insight before being unleashed on the world, because engineering as a profession (if not vocation) has taken the obligation to protect humankind from science and technology. If not a reprint or new edition, perhaps a new publisher is in order.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Shane C on 18 Mar 2011
Format: Paperback
I first read this about four years ago, recently I read it again prior to reading The Next Catastrophe, it certainly takes a very different view of Human Error, food for thought and a nice contrast to Reason and Dekker.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 4 July 1999
Format: Paperback
I enjoyed very much reading this book. It is simple to read, yet profound and can be used for many purposes. I teach courses in the field of engineering systems, and one unit is dedicated to Perrow's approach. It is a must if you are interested in complex engineering systems!
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By gabode on 13 Sep 2014
Format: Paperback
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