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Pushing the Limits: New Adventures in Engineering (Vintage) [Paperback]

Aleksandar S Vesic Professor of Civil Engineering and Professor of History Henry Petroski
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

13 Sep 2005 Vintage
Here are two dozen tales in the grand adventure of engineering from the Henry Petroski, who has been called America’s poet laureate of technology. Pushing the Limits celebrates some of the largest things we have created–bridges, dams, buildings--and provides a startling new vision of engineering’s past, its present, and its future. Along the way it highlights our greatest successes, like London’s Tower Bridge; our most ambitious projects, like China’s Three Gorges Dam; our most embarrassing moments, like the wobbly Millennium Bridge in London; and our greatest failures, like the collapse of the twin towers on September 11. Throughout, Petroski provides fascinating and provocative insights into the world of technology with his trademark erudition and enthusiasm for the subject.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Books; Reprint edition (13 Sep 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400032946
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400032945
  • Product Dimensions: 13.4 x 1.7 x 20.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 465,259 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great... Second Half.. 28 Jun 2011
A great, inspiring read for anyone interested in the engineering profession. I would suggest that you can skip some of the bridge chapters and spend more time on the second half, unless you are specifically interested in bridge engineering?

I found the start slow and laborious, I'm more than happy to report that this feeling didn't persist. The text built up great positivity towards the profession and reinstated my engineering aspirations. I'm glad the engine warmed up and showed significant horsepower because I came across 'Pushing the limits: New Adventures in Engineering' on an engineering reading list.

The latter part of the book that imparts Petroski's personal experiences with vast international projects, for example from the Three Gorges Dam in China, is truly fascinating. The holistic nature of modern day engineering is exposed in all its glory. The problems and mistakes are not hidden behind any boasting of achievement, the outcomes of the endeavours - bridges, dams, iconic buildings - are described in full colour cultivating further my admiration for the subject. Petroski talks about where engineering fuses with other disciplines, such as architecture and art, through figures such as Santiago Calatrava, and projects like the Texas Bonfire where consideration (or lack thereof) of Sociology is acknowledged as an aspect of, in this case, the failure of the project.

The final two chapters, 'Engineers' Dreams' and 'Engineers' Achievements' really wrap the text up well, giving a birds eye view of the whole scene, from past to future. If the first section on bridges was shorter and emulated the contents covered in the later chapters this book would be getting that last star. I think Petroski may have been too heavily influenced by a personal passion for bridges.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars 14 Oct 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Well readable and interesting book.
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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mostly Bridges 24 Sep 2004
By Donald B. Siano - Published on Amazon.com
This book is a worthwhile addition to Petroski's accounts of adventures in engineering. His many essays on the possibilities of gutsy achievement in large scale engineering is leavened by cautionary tales of overconfidence and hubris. His stories are especially enlivened by his lacing some of his personal experiences with encountering the structures with erudite discussions of the technical challenges faced by the engineers and sometimes lyrical peans to the beauty of the artifacts they had created.

I especially appreciated his chapter on his visit to the Three Gorges--a place I hope to visit soon. And the one about London's Millennium Bridge and the Wheel was tops too.

On the other hand, it is apparent that the book is rather unevenly done. It is a collection of essays that do not tie together very well. The chapter on fuel cells near the end of the book seems quite out of place and pedantic to boot. And while the book has 28 illustrations, most of them are pretty cheesy--it really needs more and better pictures.

But overall, I enjoyed the book and I'll be using it to enhance my visits to some of the same places that he describes so well.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Engineering Successes and Failures 4 Nov 2004
By John Matlock - Published on Amazon.com
It's pretty clear that Mr. Petroski likes bridges. I do to. In fact I just recently drove many miles out of my way to go see the new Sundial bridge designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava in Redding, California. My one complaint here would be that I'd sure like to have seen more pictures. His words are elequent, his descriptions great, but remember the bit about picture and a thousand words.

Bridges take up about half the book. then he goes on to describe an eclectic collection of engineering projects that don't quite fit together but which make nice little essays of their own.

Interesting enough, a couple of his essays cover engineering projects that failed. In his interestingly named Vanities of the Bonfire, he gives an engineering report of the collapse of the stack of logs that made up the 1999 bonfire at Texas A&M. It would be very amusing except that it killed a dozen people and injured several more. Consistent with todays law suit environment, it is now estimated that a new bonfire would cost between one and one and a half million dollars.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A valuable perspective for a layman 29 Jan 2006
By Bufford D. Moore - Published on Amazon.com
I have been reading Dr Petroski's books for a long time. I was particularly struck by the study of the Texas A&M Bonfire collapse. I was impressed that he went beyond the "nuts and bolts" of physicial studies of materials and failure analysis. The comments on psychological factors was insightful and engaging.

Highly recommended
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tells stories of daring enterprises 6 Nov 2004
By Midwest Book Review - Published on Amazon.com
In the push for longer bridges, taller buildings and larger-scale projects of all sizes, engineers face new challenges which go beyond physics to tackle the aesthetics and functionality of engineering itself. Henry Petroski's PUSHING THE LIMITS tells stories of daring enterprizes which envisioned engineering achievements beyond ordinary measure; from Philadelphia's Benjamin Franklin Bridge to China's Three Gorges Dam project. His isn't just a celebration of technological achievement either: PUSHING THE LIMITS also examines the underlying costs and problems of such projects, focusing on both design and human challenges in the process.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars one of his lesser efforts 31 July 2011
By Brian Maitland - Published on Amazon.com
I've read two (Making the World and Small Things Considered) of Petroski's other books and loved them both. This I snagged mainly because of the cover wanting to read about the Guggenhiem Museum in Bilbao. Sadly, too much of this book is basically on bridges.

Nothing wrong with that but they are not my thing when it comes to engineering. The other half of the book covers such fascinating areas as the aforementioned in Bilbao, the Dorton Arena (little known but very early precussor to the domed stadiums of the '70s and '80s) and the Three Gorges Dam in China.

The only bridge story that really grabbed me was the ancient Britannia Bridge because of the construction methods used that are not in vogue today (mainly brick). I'm willing to give the half of the book that revolves around bridges a second read but you really do have to be into bridges in a big way to want this book. My advice--borrow it from a library first, if you're not a bridge afficiando.
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