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Why Buildings Fall Down: How Structures Fail Paperback – February 17, 2002


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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Structural engineers Levy and Salvadori have written a well-paced, highly informative, nontechnical work describing failures in a variety of structures such as buildings, bridges, and dams. Salvadori wrote Why Buildings Stand Up (Norton, 1990), so this is a natural complement. The subject, somewhat grisly in nature, is presented here with respect for the tragedies involved, and yet with a lighthearted pursuit of the truth as to the cause of the failure. Analysis of the failure is discussed and recommendations for improvement are offered, but without the usual condescension hindsight allows. Profuse illustrations by Kevin Woest, well labeled and explained, and several appendixes aid access. An index (not seen) is provided, but no glossary. This fascinating book is easily accessible to laypersons. Highly recommended.
- Alex Hartmann, Bloomsburg Univ. Lib., Pa.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 346 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Updated and expanded edition (February 17, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039331152X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393311525
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #94,216 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Andrew Johnston on April 20, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Such is our morbid fascination that this book is inevitably more attractive than one called "Why Buildings Stay Up". That said, I think I have not only learned more about structural engineering than I would have done from a positive counterpart, but I have also learned vastly more about the other factors, human and natural, that influence the ultimate success or failure of structures.
The book is based on the same material as the late 1990s TV series of the same name, and having watched that series many of the incidents and issues were familiar to me. The advantage of the book is the ability to digest information at your own speed and refer back to earlier pages, but it has to be said that the TV series communicated some of the issues better, helped by animated graphics and by the better mutual support of both pictures and narrative.
Each chapter takes a topic, whether a human factor like the law, a type of construction such as the dome, or a cause of failure such as metal fatigue, and then illustrates the issues by consideration of a number of case studies, frequently including some notable successes as well as dramatic failures. In the case of failures the book always attempts to assess both the practical cause, and also any human cause, impact and implications.
The book is very well written, in an accessible style supported by some useful appendixes on structural engineering principles. However, sometimes the simple line drawings and verbal descriptions of a structure don't manage to communicate a full understanding, and more sophisticated illustrations might have helped.
Mario Salvadori died in 1997 (at the good age of 90), and the surviving author, Matthys Levy updated the book in 2002.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 21, 1997
Format: Paperback
We see all the time buildings working as they should (i.e., standing up and not collapsing), however, it is very interesting to read of some real life collapses. Salvadori does an excellant job of writing so that people without a technical background can understand why these structures failed. And he writes with such detail that engineers are not bored by lack of detail. Simpley explained, fully detailed, and thoroughly researched. Excellant book for anyone who is interested in buildings, structures, or failures
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By M. Buisman on June 10, 2004
Format: Paperback
If you have read the book 'Why Buildings stand up' you should definitely read this one, since it is much more interesting to know why certain buildings collapse, since this makes the news.
There are some chapters almost the same as the first book, but most chapters are case studies on bridges (the famous galloping Gertie in Washington State), explosions, structural failures etc. An extra chapter is added to explain the collapse of the the World Trade Center Towers after the September 11 Attacks in 2001. Also 5 Appendixes are added dealing with stress, loads and more engineering things, which can also be found on the PBS site on buildings.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 29, 1998
Format: Paperback
This was a great introduction to the fundamentals of building science - understanding why things don't work is a great help in understanding why they do. Each chapter discusses one example of something that went wrong and explains another reason why structures can fail.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Pumpkin King on March 11, 2003
Format: Paperback
An entertaining book for readers who know about structures, and an educational book for lay readers, WHY BUILDINGS FALL DOWN is an interesting collection of case studies concerning building failures. Never condescending, but never too technical, it's a fun way to learn about architecture or structural engineering.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Tiago Ilharco on April 22, 2005
Format: Paperback
I'm a young Civil Engineer from Portugal. Some months ago I went to New York and I found this fantastic book. I've also bought the book "Why buildings stand up" which is, again, amazing. The descriptions are in such a simple way that even lay people can understand easily the functioning of structures.

It was a pleasure to read such interesting books.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Anne Fleming on September 11, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is one of the best books I've read on the engineering behind structural failures. The authors teach by example, exploring fallen apartment buildings, stadiums, bridges and other structure, and using each to illustrate an important engineering principle. The illustrations are also an invaluable aid to understanding the problems in each structure (particularly for readers who, like me, may find it difficult to follow verbiage on the orientation of strutts, the direction of braces, etc.).

I only had two gripes: a glossary provided the only introduction to many basic concepts; and political/historical/personal context would have made for a livelier account. The glossary was a very helpful resource for understanding basic things like, what "load" is, and how it effects structures. It might have been better to also work those descriptions into the text as the concepts arose - this would have made it easier for me to assimilate them. Also, I enjoyed it when the authors gave context for many of the engineering decisions made - for instance, that a stadium rooftop was designed, in part, because flaws in the city sewer system prevented the efficient disposition of significant rainfall. However, more of this kind of context - particularly historical and personal facts that had bearing on design decisions - would have made each example into a better story, and improved the reading experience for me.

Overall, a highly recommended book.
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