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Small Things Considered


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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 ten previous books.


An engineer extraordinaire on the creative effort of designing the simplest things, from paperclips to paper cups. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

"Design can be easy and difficult at the same time, but in the end, it is mostly difficult." So writes engineering professor Petroski (The Evolution of Useful Things, etc.) in his latest effort, a wide-ranging exploration of the history and design of the everyday technologies like supermarket aisles and telephone keypads that are practically invisible in their ubiquity. Petroski emphasizes that these "small things" aren't in fact the results of a smooth and simple design process, but are rather the products of a constellation of oft-conflicting constraints, frequently with unintended consequences (consider the recently redesigned, fat-handled toothbrushes that, while more ergonomic, have rendered millions of traditional toothbrush holders useless). The book meanders through this world of design, less concerned with making a direct argument than with reveling in the complexities of the ever-changing design of everyday things, such as Brita water pitchers and freeway tollbooths. The writing is engaging and approachable, and reading the book feels like sitting down for a long chat with that favorite uncle who seems to know a bit about everything and never hesitates to throw in his own take on matters. Petroski's histories of, among others, paper cups and duct tape are fascinating, and this book leaves us a little more conscious of the never-ending design process of our modern world. 22 photos. (Sept. 22) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

" A masterful expression of how design affects the civilized world." --Los Angeles Times Book Review
"Delightful. . . . A keen observer to the made world and how people live in it. . . . Small Things Considered provides all sorts of penetrating and broadly interesting insights into . . . the process of design." --Scientific American

"He peers closely at some of the most common household objects and explains how they work-or don't. . . . Whether he's tracing the evolution of the Oral-B toothbrush or explaining why the fastest tollbooth is always the one on the right, Petroski clearly knows the designs of our times." --Michael Dirda, INC. Magazine
"Henry Petroski has become the main emissary from the world of engineering to the rest of us. . . . He brings clarity and good sense to his subject, making the enigmatic world of things a little less mystifying." --Austin American-Statesman

"Fascinating. . . . [Petroski] has combined a writer's grace with an engineer's insight to give us an engaging series of essays. . . . You'll never again take a potato peeler for granted." --St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"Craftily, [Petroski] combines an engineer's insight and admiration for the way things are designed with a layman's puzzlement." --Boston Herald

"An engaging read." --The Denver Post

"Fascinating. . . . Interesting and insightful observations. . . . Petroski will make any reader . . . more aware of the processes that lead to the variety of things that are all around us and how they came to be the way they are." --Science Books & Film

"[Petroski] shares with Carl Sagan, Stephen Jay Gould, and Stephen Hawking a talent for taking his passion and making it accessible to those who lack his scientific background while being sufficiently observant and meticulous to keep it interesting for those who share it." --Civil Engineering

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