Henry Petroski


On his book The Essential Engineer: Why Science Alone Will Not Solve Our Global Problems

Cover Interview of March 26, 2010

A close-up

Chapter 3, entitled “Which Came First?”, goes over a number of examples of engineering achievements that were accomplished without full scientific understanding or explanation of the phenomena involved. Among those examples are rockets, which preceded rocket science; the steam engine, which preceded thermodynamics; powered flight, which preceded a fully formed science of aerodynamics; and hybridization, which preceded genetics.

Such examples—and the implications they have for the way the world really works—should lead the general reader to a fuller understanding of the nature and practice of science and engineering.  I hope that they will be encouraging to inventors and engineers who wish to pursue a goal even in the absence of full scientific support for their idea.