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The Road Taken


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A renowned historian and engineer explores the past, present, and future of America's crumbling infrastructure.

About the Author

Henry Petroski is the Aleksandar S. Vesic Professor of Civil Engineering and a professor of history at Duke University. He is the author of numerous books, including The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance, To Engineer Is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design, The House with Sixteen Handmade Doors: A Tale of Architectural Choice and Craftsmanship, Engineers of Dreams: Great Bridge Builders and the Spanning of America, and The Essential Engineer. He lives in North Carolina.


Petroski provides valuable historical context to inform today's policy debates. * New York Times Book Review *
A thorough account of how our highway system got to be what it is. * New York Review of Books *
A characteristically eye-opening look at America's infrastructure . . . Anyone with an interest in the way things work will want this book--and will doubtless emerge as a fan of the ever curious author. -- starred review * Kirkus Reviews *
[Petroski] excels at revealing the origins of everyday, utilitarian things. His previous books include histories of the toothpick and the pencil, and his latest contribution bristles with fascinating details about the elements of road design we often overlook. * Los Angeles Times *
Mr. Petroski . . . cherishes roads and bridges, and his book is a loving look at everything-materials, expertise, politics, money, culture-that goes into their creation and maintenance. It is also a passionate appeal to Americans to accept responsibility for keeping their infrastructure safe and viable. . . . A labor of love [by] a lucid writer. * Wall Street Journal *
[Petroski] has a clear eye, a mellifluous prose style and a knack for spicing deep research with personal anecdotes. * Washington Post *
This is vital reading. * Booklist *
Public infrastructure is often deemed interesting only to policy wonks, but Petroski . . . proves that he can make it accessible and fascinating for a wider readership . . . His book may well move readers to lobby their elected officials. * Publishers Weekly *
Petroski's goal is to ask how, given the importance of the car to the US economy and mobility, federal and state governments have allowed the country's infrastructure to reach crisis point. But he goes beyond hand wringing. With an engineer's technical knowledge and a historian's eye, he offers a nuanced argument about the political, financial and engineering calculus that contributes to failures. * Nature *
One of the clearest (and most entertaining) cases yet for why we must improve the network of roads, bridges, and highways we take for granted. * Science *
A compelling work of history written by a guy with a feeling for the humanities and the grit of a practical engineer. (Where did people like him go?) . . . This book is your entry into revitalizing where you live by bringing politicians to task. * The Buffalo News *
In The Road Taken: The History and Future of America's Infrastructure, Henry Petroski, Duke professor of civil engineering and the reliably fascinating author of books about how stuff gets to be stuff, provides the backstory to the American system of roads, streets, interstates and highways. The book is never less than interesting and is often fascinating. * Raleigh News & Observer *
Petroski brings welcome exposure to processes that, like infrastructure itself, too often hide in plain sight. * New Yorker *
Timely and insightful . . . Petroski's book offers a rare engineer's perspective on a debate too often dominated by economists and politicians. * Foreign Affairs *

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