• “Dr. Petroski, who is 64, has preached his gospel of failure in books, lectures and articles for publications, …has amassed numerous honors and awards…[His] first book was a catalog of calamity called ‘To Engineer Is Human.’”

In the gospel of failure, one prophet stands out for his prolific liturgy on the subject, Henry Petroski, who celebrates his birthday today. The New York Times describes his ethos and background in their piece “Engineering a Safer, More Beautiful World, One Failure at a Time”…

  • “For an engineer, Henry Petroski seems strangely enthusiastic about failure. Not his own, of course. Fear of failure is what sent him, with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, to graduate school rather than to work, and then to a career of teaching and writing, not designing and building. From his vantage point, failures in design and construction present perfect teaching opportunities. They are object lessons in the history and practice and beauty of engineering. ‘Failure is central to engineering,’ he said in an interview. ‘Every single calculation that an engineer makes is a failure calculation. Successful engineering is all about understanding how things break or fail.’ So whether the subject is the building specs in ‘The Three Little Pigs,’ the development of the flip-top beverage can or the storage of nuclear waste (a current focus of his), Dr. Petroski thinks and writes in terms of failure. Failure looms even in ‘The Pencil,’ his 400-plus-page look at the invention, evolution, crafting and use of the writing implement whose points are so prone to breaking. The book was a surprise best seller.”

(thanks Peter Haynes)

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