The Essential Engineer

The Essential Engineer

Why Science Alone Will Not Solve Our Global Problems

Book - 2010
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Random House, Inc.
From the acclaimed author of The Pencil and To Engineer Is Human, The Essential Engineer is an eye-opening exploration of the ways in which science and engineering must work together to address our world’s most pressing issues, from dealing with climate change and the prevention of natural disasters to the development of efficient automobiles and the search for renewable energy sources. While the scientist may identify problems, it falls to the engineer to solve them. It is the inherent practicality of engineering, which takes into account structural, economic, environmental, and other factors that science often does not consider, that makes engineering vital to answering our most urgent concerns.

Henry Petroski takes us inside the research, development, and debates surrounding the most critical challenges of our time, exploring the feasibility of biofuels, the progress of battery-operated cars, and the question of nuclear power. He gives us an in-depth investigation of the various options for renewable energy—among them solar, wind, tidal, and ethanol—explaining the benefits and risks of each. Will windmills soon populate our landscape the way they did in previous centuries? Will synthetic trees, said to be more efficient at absorbing harmful carbon dioxide than real trees, soon dot our prairies? Will we construct a “sunshade” in outer space to protect ourselves from dangerous rays? In many cases, the technology already exists. What’s needed is not so much invention as engineering.

Just as the great achievements of centuries past—the steamship, the airplane, the moon landing—once seemed beyond reach, the solutions to the twenty-first century’s problems await only a similar coordination of science and engineering. Eloquently reasoned and written, The Essential Engineer identifies and illuminates these problems—and, above all, sets out a course for putting ideas into action.

Baker & Taylor
Poses compelling arguments about why the scientific community must work with engineers to address the world's most pressing environmental issues, explaining how engineering can offer solutions to structural and economic challenges.

& Taylor

"Poses compelling arguments about why the scientific community must work with engineers to address the world's most pressing environmental issues, explaining how engineering can offer solutions to structural and economic challenges. By the author of The Pencil."

Publisher: New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2010
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9780307272454
Branch Call Number: 620 PET
Characteristics: 274 p


From the critics

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May 16, 2017

Petroski says that "science is about knowing; engineering is about doing." He shows how technological inventions very often precede the scientific understanding of why they work. He cites examples from every field of technological development, from the great inventions of the past to those of the present. He gets bogged down somewhat in his defense of engineering as the unappreciated practical 'science'. The book is a very well written casual read for those interested in history and science, I mean engineering, specifically applied science, as in R&D, no, development and research... ;-)

May 14, 2015

Another interesting, and sometimes a little boring, collection of essays, all previously published in the periodical 'American Scientist'.

Nov 16, 2012

The Essential Engineer: Why Science Alone Will Not Solve Our Global Problems --- by Henry Petroski. The author is a practicing engineer, a prolific writer and the recipient of too many awards to mention. The catchy part of the title is the “science alone will not solve our global problems” part. And that is the part of the title that this book addresses. One might expect a book like this would be a tough read. But not so. Petroski has written for the lay person. And as such this book makes for quite interesting and stimulating reading.

JeremiahSutherland Jul 25, 2012

Every time I crack open one of the author's books, I am disappointed. The reader will search in vain for deep thinking or interesting concepts.

Much of Petroski's non-technical works come off sounding like an endless monologue by your slightly dotty uncle.

However, if you don't know much about technology, this might be worth your time.

Jul 25, 2010

"I am a great fan of science, you know." - Slartibartfast the Magrathean.

Would Henry Petroski, the author of "The Essential Engineer" add, "...but props to the Dilberts, too!"? I mistook Petroski for Dr. Mario G. Salvadori (Why Buildings Fall Down). Salvadori, forensic engineering godfather, passed away some time ago. I read the book anyway remembering “To Engineer is Human”.

“The Essential Engineer” begins with <Ubiquitous Risk> in our world. The profession of engineering is meant to identify, mitigate and eliminate risk. Engineers creatively solve the problem of risk worldwide. Threats are everywhere, from climate change to the collision of asteroids with Earth's surface. Petroski says most believe scientists will identify such threats, understand them, develop and then deploy solutions to obviate them. This wasn’t so in the past, isn’t so now, and won’t be the case in the future. Solutions are conceived, designed and developed by the processes of engineering, not science. Reading Media, however, one could conflate the distinct disciplines. In fact, Petroski perceives incidious bias against the engineering profession in prominent headlines such as the espionage case of Wen Ho Lee.

Unchauvinistically, “Essential” doesn't jealously guard engineering by making it exclusive to trained or licensed engineers. Scientists have done engineering for scientific advancement. Likewise, engineers veer into scientific research pursuant engineering breakthroughs. This is a serious proof that science and engineering exist symbiotically. The layman, most engineers and most scientists don't fully understand this.

Regrettably the book lacks elegance. Petroski only admits to having learned the "rudiments of writing". If this book is written with the intent of persuading the public of the importance of engineering to solve global problems, it'd benefit from a more taut, purposeful narration.

Sci-Eng could ignite 21st-Century American’s imaginations. Perhaps that will happen with more books like “The Essential Engineer”.

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