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Invention by Design: How Engineers Get from Thought to Thing Hardcover – November 1, 1996

ISBN-13: 978-0674463677 ISBN-10: 0674463676 Edition: 1St Edition

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; 1St Edition edition (November 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674463676
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674463677
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #243,864 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Invention, Petroski has steadfastly maintained, comes from a failure of design. The paperclip that can only be used in one direction, that becomes easily tangled in a box, or that tears the paper has led inventors to a cycle of improvements and patents. That's the story of the case studies here, many of which Petroski has used in other books?the paperclip, zipper and aluminum can appeared in The Evolution of Useful Things, the pencil in The Pencil; and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in Engineers of Dreams. But Petroski still manages to add something new. When talking about the Bay Bridge, for example, he goes into great depth here about the impact of factors far removed from statics, dynamics and hydraulics. He looks at the importance of John Roebling's personal charisma and the impact of the 1879 failure of the Firth of Tay bridge on the subsequent construction of bridges. In the same way, his sections on "Facsimile and Networks" and "Airplanes and Computers" offer very interesting insights into the economics of implementing large-scale projects (fax machines became popular in part because of Federal Express's promotion of its new ZapMail, which turned into a $300 million bath for the company). Those who don't know Petroski's work will find this an enjoyable introduction. Those who do, will appreciate the additional gloss.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Petroski (The Pencil, LJ 3/1/90) has done much to make the nerdy world of engineering interesting and accessible to the reader. Here, he's after a different audience, one interested in the philosophy and cultural study of the process of invention. By examining the relationship between the invention of devices and their refinement over time by others, Petroski identifies design principles that engineers use to make things work. Written as a series of case studies ranging from the paper clip to the zipper to the FAX machine to the Boeing 777, this book is engaging but tends to instruct rather than entertain. Little exercises that ask the reader to, say, imagine refinements to the basic plastic sandwich bag hint at this book's history as an engineering course curriculum, but it's still good reading for those interested in the gestalt of engineering design. Quotations and illustrations from patent applications are particularly fascinating and are used well. For popular science collections.?Mark L. Shelton, Univ. of Massachusetts Medical Ctr., Worcester
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

Henry Petroski is the Aleksandar S. Vesic Professor of Civil Engineering and a professor of history at Duke University. The author of more than a dozen previous books, he lives in Durham, North Carolina, and Arrowsic, Maine.

Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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The Author, Henry Petroski did a very good job on writing about all of these objects.
Aaron C. Artrip
I thought this book was very good and interesting, especially since I enjoy studying and learning about mechanical, civil, and architectural engineering.
Mary P. Smith
The first few chapters go into way too much detail about the paperclips and there could have been more information about other inventions.
M. Streit

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Bill Bazik on January 23, 2006
Format: Hardcover
The author of this book starts out by saying, "As simple as familiar objects may seem at first glance, their conception, development, manufacturing and marketing may pose great difficulties". He goes on to prove that this is true by citing the histories of some very familiar items.

His first example is the ordinary paper clip. Literally hundreds of improvement patents have been issued, yet it is still not "perfected". The most common clip was given its present form by a company called Gem Ltd. in the last century and is still referred to in the industry as the "Gem" clip. Inventors are still trying to overcome its negative features. The author lists several shortcomings such as its tendency to tear paper, requiring its loops to be spread when clipping on, and its habit of slipping off thick stacks of paper.

Next he considers the common wood-cased pencil. When wax was added to the lead for smoother writing and added to the wood for easier sharpening, the lead often separated from the wood and would break when the pencil was used or even when dropped. Etching the lead surface and coating it with a suitable chemical solved this problem. However, overcoming the BOPP (Broken-Off Pencil Point) problem has not been as easy. Understanding why points fracture as they do is far from as simple as you might think.

His next case history is that of the zipper. In patent literature, they go back to 1851! The description of its evolution is fascinating. There is a great sketch of the tooling that applies the zipper teeth to the fabric.

The author notes how ideas often come unexpectedly -- but usually to individuals who can see the idea's potential.
Read more ›
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Aaron C. Artrip on November 15, 2004
Format: Paperback
Invention by design is a complex book written about simple everyday things we use. Things like paper clips, aluminum cans, mechanical pencils, zippers, airplanes, bridges, and more. The Author, Henry Petroski did a very good job on writing about all of these objects. The book goes on to explain the nature of the design, engineering, and concepts put behind the objects.

Pros: Very Interesting

Good information

Very Descriptive

Ideas and concepts never thought of to be use in the

everyday items.

Cons: Very Slow and Drawn out.

At times can be a bit boring

Overall Review: A- book. Many good facts and alot of useful

information. A tiny bit slow, but overall, a good

read.

Recommendations: I would recommend this book to a friend who may

be interested in any basic form of Engineering,

like myself.
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Mary P. Smith on April 29, 2002
Format: Paperback
Want to know the facts behind the everyday things we use? Invention by Design, by Henry Petroski, is a very interesting book. It explains how items used by people daily were thought of and created. This book explains how familiar items such as paper clips, aluminum cans, zippers, mechanical pencils, bridges, buildings, and more were constructed. Invention by Design also describes how certain inventions and constructions were improved though the years by different inventors and engineers.
I thought this book was very good and interesting, especially since I enjoy studying and learning about mechanical, civil, and architectural engineering. I would recommend this book to anyone, but someone with no interest in engineering may not find this book to be very enjoyable. On a ten point scale I would give Invention by Design an eight. I give it an eight because some objects that Petroski describes are not very complex, and in my opinion not worth discussing. That made certain parts of this book a little boring.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Latimer on December 2, 2007
Format: Paperback
This book was very thought provoking and showed me the immense amount of time and revision it takes to create a simple, everyday product. It helped me realize how small and mostly overlooked items, are complex and wonderfully designed.
A paper clip, for example, is only a small piece of wire, cut to the right length, and bent into the appropriate shape. Yet it took years of progress and revision to create the most cost effective and visually appealing product. The first metal paper clips were called "Gems". They were larger and required more metal to produce. Today, engineers have designed a smaller paper clip that only loses only 2% of its gripping ability, yet uses 1/3 less metal.
Pencil lead is another example. It was originally so fragile that writing with it was almost useless. Different methods of cutting the lead and covering it with different materials have helped this problem. Lead will always break, but reducing the frequency helps to make writing with it more efficient and less frustrating.
Zippers are another interesting invention that took a long time to develop but were very effective once used. Instead of having to button and button, tie and untie, or hook and unhook, zippers allow you to simply pull up to put together or pull down to take apart. Although there are shortcomings of this product, such as getting stuck or being uneven, they greatly changed how people think about fastening clothes or other items, such as plastic bags.
These are only three examples. He continues on to inform about more complex products such as aluminum cans, airplanes, and bridges. Each of the topics he explains helps show how engineering plays such an important role in everyday lives. I recommend this book to whoever is interested in engineering or is interested how things around them came to be, have been improved, and now are incorporated into our everyday lives.
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