To Forgive Design: Understanding Failure
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating

To Forgive Design: Understanding Failure

3.42 of 5 stars 3.42  ·  rating details  ·  60 ratings  ·  14 reviews
When planes crash, bridges collapse, and automobile gas tanks explode, we are quick to blame poor design. But Henry Petroski says we must look beyond design for causes and corrections. Known for his masterly explanations of engineering successes and failures, Petroski here takes his analysis a step further, to consider the larger context in which accidents occur.

In To Forg...more
Hardcover, 432 pages
Published March 30th 2012 by Belknap Press of Harvard University Press
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about To Forgive Design, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about To Forgive Design

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 245)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
Thomas Warger
Numerous good accounts of why we need to break the taboo that holds that failure has nothing to teach us, other than not to repeat that particular mistake.

I liked it for the insights on the intersections of technology, socio-economic context, and learning/progress. On another level, I saw in it some good cross-over applications to the management of technology support services, which is my line of work.

(view spoiler)...more
Margaret Sankey
Reading this made me appreciate that things don't fail more often than they do. A bridge, or space shuttle, or parking garage or de-icing boot on an airplane is a complex system--it may have been built with redundant safety tolerances, but one shoddy material, or one sub-contractor who didn't pour the concrete properly, or an addition that added different stresses, or an increase in use, or an environmental factor (heat/cold/salt water corrosion), or a new way of using it, or some repairs made w...more
Read _To Engineer is Human_ and _The Evolution of Useful Things_ and you'll have captured the main points in a more cohesive presentation.

I really wish that he had done more with the idea of the human factors which cause failure which he hasn't really covered before - the people who bypass systems which are perceived as too constraining, the employees who don't want to cause waves, the toxic workplaces that lead to accepting too much risk without realizing it, etc.
Petroski writes almost an ode to failure: why it happens, why it must be studied and why we must always welcome it. It is through failure that things are learned and designs improve. Petroski looks at failure in a very broad sense: not just failure of design or technology but of all of the human decisions that come into play when massive projects - like bridges or shuttles - are put together. Petroski hopes that modern colleges of engineering and modern engineers study failure and plan for failu...more
Rick Edwards
Petroski tells the stories of a number of engineering failures and what was learned from them. He does an excellent job, and makes a strong case for engineering training to include a better historical perspective. There appears to be a tendency for engineers to forget the lessons of past failures, and to build on recent successes without fulling understanding the rationale for them. Ergo, important considerations may be overlooked.
Alan Cunningham
This was a great book for this time in my life. The author makes each paragraph into a little story of its own, which means he writes more than I would care to, but his prose still flows. I have enjoyed two of his other books, for much the same reasons. He gets the inside scoop and detailed accounts on long dead tales that bring history alive.
I wanted to like this book, but it needs an editor with a very sharp pencil. Stream-of-consciousness writing about mechanical engineering can only get you so far in this gal's heart. Also, what sort of engineer doesn't include at least one diagram/photo/design/illustration? Did not finish.
Douglas Tatelman
As we march into the future, we are destined to deal with failures of systems, buildings, networks. The author indicates it is sometimes generational. People forget what others have learned.

Nice ending about how we are all human and learn from our mistakes.
Mikel Hensley
Meh. It starts out with some really interesting stories, but then bogs down after that. After the multitude of explanations for why fail-safe breaks count as failures (but successful failures!), I could barely motivate myself to read further.
I was hoping more about how things go wrong and less of the author's memoir of becoming a engineer of failure. I gave up on this book about halfway through.
Too repetitive for me; some interesting case histories considered, but overall not that much meat in these pages.
Written for the layman. A great and interesting read for sure.
Good book on failure and the many ways they happen.
Chaitanyarmehta marked it as to-read
Sep 22, 2014
Theresa is currently reading it
Sep 20, 2014
Jonna marked it as to-read
Sep 11, 2014
Zarul Nazli
Zarul Nazli marked it as to-read
Sep 11, 2014
Taybuğa Mamalı
Taybuğa Mamalı marked it as to-read
Sep 09, 2014
Peter Sellars
Peter Sellars marked it as to-read
Sep 01, 2014
Timothy Kauphusman
Timothy Kauphusman marked it as to-read
Aug 12, 2014
Meriem Laifa
Meriem Laifa marked it as to-read
Aug 08, 2014
Josh marked it as to-read
Aug 07, 2014
Steve Mickelson
Steve Mickelson marked it as to-read
Jul 11, 2014
Dan marked it as to-read
Jul 02, 2014
Salem Alelyani
Salem Alelyani marked it as to-read
Jun 22, 2014
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
Henry Petroski is a civil engineering professor at Duke University where he specializes in failure analysis.

Petroski was born in Brooklyn, New York, and in 1963, he received his bachelor's degree from Manhattan College. He graduated with his Ph.D. in Theoretical and Applied Mechanics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1968. Before beginning his work at Duke in 1980, he worked a...more
More about Henry Petroski...
The Book on the Bookshelf To Engineer Is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design The Evolution of Useful Things: How Everyday Artifacts-From Forks and Pins to Paper Clips and Zippers-Came to be as They are. The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance Small Things Considered: Why There Is No Perfect Design

Share This Book