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VINE VOICEon January 3, 2010
Chiles presents an inside view in chilling detail on technological disasters and the chain of events immediately preceding them. Even more compelling is not the technical details presented of said disasters, instead the fascinating study of the psychological phenomena as the human mind comes up against an uncompromising set of events that lead to technological catastrophes. As humans we are definitely at the mercy of misinformation, especially when we live in world where we are regularly put in charge of systems that we have no intimate knowledge of.

Chiles presents conclusive and detailed evidence on how our natural tendency to over-estimate our abilities (the Dunning Kruger Effect - Page 131) causes many of us to fail, including groups of us acting in unison. The most interesting stories in this book are not the ones that offer in depth analysis on the actual catastrophes, but instead, the untold stories of those of us who refused to yield to uncertainty and mediocrity, such as the highly touted US Navy Commander Hyman G. Rickover, who fortunately for us was in charge of the US Navy Nuclear Powered Submarine Programs. There are other examples, such as captain Bryce McCormick who foresaw the obvious possibility of complete failure in the DC-10 design in 1970, only to experience it first hand in 1972. His heroic actions are unparalleled today, and there is no doubt McCormick as well as our modern day aviation hero "Cap'n Sully" are in a group of a few elite individuals singled out in history, that through sheer intuition, logic, and self-discipline were able to overcome seemingly impossible situations. They all seemed to have had a deep and clear mental understanding of not only the machine itself but were also able to receive accurate information on the actual operating state of the machine in which they were in control during the crises, allowing them to formulate a plan ("satisficing") that saved countless lives.

Other highly interesting topics discussed in the book: the phenomenon of "Vu Jade" (Page 56), "Satisficing" (page 61), "Normalization of Deviance" (page 67), and finally "Workplace Heuristics" (page 135).

The topics presented especially on Heuristics come frighteningly close to the research of Bruce Schneier on terrorism and "Security Theatre".

"Watching out for signs of known problems is good, but as systems get bigger and more complex we have to remember that our Achilles has many heels, so to speak. Some of the problems that arise will never have come up before, so the simple hindsight of heuristics can't save us." -- James R. Chiles
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on August 31, 2016
I've read this book multiple times. I have some minor quibbles with some of the story structures and I think a better editor could have tightened it up, but overall, this is a really great read if you are interested in the whys and hows of catastrophic events. The lessons learned and discussions of testing and team communication really can be applied not just to high stakes or dangerous jobs, but many day to day work processes in construction, IT, banking; any job where changes are installed that impact customers or processes used by people on a regular basis. It can almost make you anxious to consider times in your job where maybe a more robust testing process could have benefited the product and reduced risk.
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on December 25, 2013
I bought this book as an additional resource for an MBA Course on Organizational Theory but actually enjoyed the read!

Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, Challenger, 9/11, and other well-known cases of systematic failure are documented in this book. Using twenty years of experience James R. Chiles chronicles the systematic breakdown of these disasters rather than sudden failures. Using chronological evidence gathered he is able to show the systematic breakdown of events leading up to the failure we all know as a sudden occurrence. Who knew that so many things had to go wrong in order for some failures to occur?

This book is not a comprehensive chronology of these events but rather a brief overview of each. The author bounces back and forth between several similar stories within a chapter (often spanning over a century between stories) and can get confusing at times, but a careful re-read of the page and you'll understand the connection he's making. Inviting Disaster is a great starting point to understanding systematic failures, and is a great launching point for additional research.
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on December 29, 2007
This is an interesting book consisting of a large number of engineering disasters and near misses. Each is treated with a brief investigative story explaining what happened and generally why. Most of the disasters are very large, such as the Piper Alpha and Bhopal and thus are the most dramatic and hard hitting. The Concorde on the cover is not a prominently examined example however, which was slightly disappointing to me being an aerospace engineer.

For the lay reader this is an elucidating set of stories that many will find intriguing. For the practicing engineer it is more a reminder of the importance of safety, considering failure paths, incorporating safety systems, designing within the constraints of human capability squarely in mind, etc. However it really is a book from a pop-interest TV show. Although subtitled "Lessons from the Edge of Technology" the lessons are the simplest kind that would be discovered on a 1 hour TV episode with commercials, such as after the Piper-Alpha incident revealing: sea water and electronics don't mix. It's not a good theoretical or reference source for learning about safety in engineering design, but is a good motivator for learning why it is important for engineers and regulators to know and implement such things.
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on December 26, 2014
This is one of the best books I've read in a while.

The overall narrative is that in an age of increasing reliance on machines, we need to be careful to avoid systematic errors that can lead to catastrophe.

The books goes into detail on many stories of large accidents and explains how a few small mistakes can add up to create disaster.

There aren't many books that keep me interested for seemingly every page but this book accomplished that!
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on July 22, 2015
An intriguing look at the factors that lead to technological and human failures via multiple vignettes about actual catastrophes, some well known and others that will surprise the reader, as often the additive effect of minor mishaps leads to bigger disasters. Captivating read for those interested in technological issues and human behavior as well.
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on July 13, 2010
This book mixes fascinating stories of various disasters with attempts to tease out the larger themes and patterns at work. Anyone interested in technology and systems will enjoy the riveting stories of various disasters and close calls. At a higher level, while there is no section in the library on "engineering wisdom", but by looking clearly at the ways complex systems go wrong, this book gets close, providing an important set of insights for anyone involved with complex systems.

It also looks organizations that work effectively with high risk -- my favorite detail is the explosives plant where the doors are of the Old West Saloon type ... the whole place being constructed so the operators can flee.

I've given this book as a gift to countless engineers, and it should be required reading for any pilot or ship's master.
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on April 19, 2014
One of the things that I enjoyed the most about this book was that not only was there a lot of insightful information, including some details I didn't know about related to specific events, but the way the author wrote this book so that even someone who isn't an engineer or works in these fields can understand what happened and why. It could have been twice as long and I still would have enjoyed it just as much. Great read and a good learning experience.
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on December 22, 2016
Interesting and informative treatise on causes of aviation accidents. At times wordy, but gets his point across with in-depth analysis of some of the
more "historic" accidents. Excellent presentation for the aviation historian.
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on June 24, 2013
As an engineer, this book was awesome. Nothing better than understanding that things can and will go wrong and for complex machines, we need to have every nut and bolt defined, mapped, and understood - the way Rickover ran things. That's why the naval nuclear force has superb credentials. Even for those of us who don't work with complex machines, the lessons from the book carry over. Understand what you control and always be prepared. It's like the Author states, while the probability of winning the lottery is low, someone still wins. In other words, disasters occurring are low probability, but they will happen. Superb book!
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