Invention by Design


How Engineers Get from Thought to Thing

Henry Petroski

Harvard, 1996.

At the beginning of the second chapter, Petroski suggests that,

"sometimes the simplest of things can hold as much mystery and provide as many lessons about the nature of engineering as the most complex." (p.8)

And so we find ourselves reading a whole chapter on the paperclip. Those readers who think that such a prospect is beneath them will miss out on a very thought-provoking investigation of designs and technologies, ranging from the humble to the monumental.

The next humble stop along the way is a chapter on pencil points. This turns into a revealing case-study of how engineering problems can be analyzed. The subsequent chapters cover the following:

The chapter on water includes much of interest to Londoners, with a discussion of the work of the great engineer who "changed the London river-front from an open sewer to a tourist attraction":

"Bazalgette designed large intercepting sewers to run parallel to the banks of the river and to carry the waste water well downriver of the metropolitan area before discharging it. The sewer system was designed as an integral part of the Thames Embankment, which serves to this day as a popular fresh-air promenade along the river." (p.147)

Bazalgette is one of the icons at the Institution of Civil Engineers.

Petroski is a regular contributor to American Scientist Magazine.



© Paul Taylor 2000