Engineering & Transportation

Why Buildings Fall Down: Why Structures Fail

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Why Buildings Fall Down: Why Structures Fail [Paperback]

Matthys Levy , Mario Salvadori , Kevin Woest
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)

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Book Description

February 17, 2002

The authors examine buildings of all kinds, from ancient domes like Istanbul's Hagia Sophia to the state-of-the-art Hartford Civic Arena. Their subjects range from the man-caused destruction of the Parthenon to the earthquake damage of 1989 in Armenia and San Francisco.

The stories that make up Why Buildings Fall Down are in the end very human ones, tales of the interaction of people and nature, of architects, engineers, builders, materials, and natural forces all coming together in sometimes dramatic (and always instructive) ways. B/W line drawings

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Why Buildings Fall Down: Why Structures Fail + Why Buildings Stand Up: The Strength of Architecture + The Art of Construction: Projects and Principles for Beginning Engineers & Architects (Ziggurat Book)
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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.


The reader is sure to find the disaster that suits his or her taste. -- New York Times Book Review

Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (February 17, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039331152X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393311525
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #193,851 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A clear and entertaining book April 20, 2003
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
5.0 out of 5 stars A tecnical book easily understandable by non-engineers February 21, 1997
By A Customer
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
4.0 out of 5 stars Fun follow-up June 10, 2004
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
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
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating case studies March 11, 2003
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
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read, let's have more. May 6, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Meticulously and simply written, beautifully illustrated. Fascinating cases from antiquity to the present. You get a real feel for the field of large structures, their conception, design, building, maintenance, and the associated personalities.

I would encourage the authors to do a similar book on the World Trade Center collapses, including WTC7. Since they are associated with a company that was involved in WTC litigation, they might be in a good position to do such a review book.

And they might evaluate some of the associated factors, such as extreme high temperatures in the wreckage, possible iron microspheres in the dust, .....

I found this book in the bibligraphy of a report entitled "What Did and Did not Cause Collapse of WTC Twin Towers in New York" by Zdenek P. Bazant. Bazant is a very heavy academic hitter in the field of structure analysis and behavior. His article is very technical, laying out the establishment collapse scenario, which has been contradicted by the people that want a new investigation, e.g. [...], [...].

The US Government National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) study did not pursue the actual collapse, it just studied fire, and possible structural distortion up to the moment of collapse. Bazant follows the collapse but not in a lay intelligible manner.

Maybe the authors could do better.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thrilling book April 22, 2005
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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars As a structural engineer I enjoy in schaudenfraude fashion the...
As a structural engineer I enjoy in schaudenfraude fashion the structural problems revealed in books like this. Alas, it was a bit of a let down. Read more
Published 2 months ago by H. Campbell
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Everything was perfect!!
Published 3 months ago by CESAR GUIDI
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
A good buy
Published 4 months ago by Anthony Champion
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book! This should be required reading for all ...
Great book! This should be required reading for all structural engineers.
Published 4 months ago by Mark Yerges
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a really fun book. I've been reading it out loud to ...
This is a really fun book. I've been reading it out loud to my nine-year-old.
Published 4 months ago by Alexander R. Pruss
5.0 out of 5 stars My grandson is studying to be a structural engineer and requested this...
I have not read this book, but since my grandson who is studying to be a structural engineer requested it and the book "Why Buildings Stand Up: The Strength of Architecture, I... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Connie
5.0 out of 5 stars We learn more from our mistakes than from our successes.
Fascinating case studies of dramatic failures in structural engineering. The type of book that can be enjoyed one chapter at at time by folks who don't have a degree in structural... Read more
Published 9 months ago by frzstat
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book
Easy to read. Not too technical, but still interesting for engineers.
You are able to pick up the book at any section at start reading.
Published 13 months ago by Amy Boncelet
5.0 out of 5 stars Why Buildings Fall Down
I found this to be a most interesting book, which was well researched and full of information and detail that is not usually available through the general public media.
Published 14 months ago by Edward L. Hodder
4.0 out of 5 stars I really found very interesting.
It was written by a distinguished professor and a practicing engineer, which provides very interesting cases, explained in a language to be understood by non technical persons.
Published 14 months ago by A. Herrera
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