Henry Petroski is the Aleksandar S. Vesic Professor of Civil Engineering and a professor of history at Duke University. He has written broadly on the topics of design, success and failure, and the history of engineering and technology. His 17 books on these subjects include To Engineer Is Human, Design Paradigms, and Engineers of Dreams, which deal principally with large structures like bridges. He has also written about small, common things in his books The Pencil, The Toothpick, The Evolution of Useful Things, and Small Things Considered. His memoir about delivering newspapers in the 1950s and about what predisposed him to become an engineer is entitled Paperboy. His most recently published books include An Engineer’s Alphabet: Gleanings from the Softer Side of a Profession, which is a collection of serious and not-so-serious observations, lists, reflections, and speculations relating to the engineering profession. His newest book, To Forgive Design: Understanding Failure, is about why ships sink, bridges collapse, and engineered systems of all kinds can misbehave.
In addition to his books, which have been translated into more than a dozen languages, Petroski has written many general-interest articles and essays for magazines and newspapers, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and The Wall Street Journal, and he writes regular columns for the magazines American Scientist and ASEE Prism. In addition, he lectures frequently to audiences in the U.S. and abroad, and has been interviewed often on radio and television. He has been profiled in The New York Times, Smithsonian, U.S. News and World Report, and many other newspapers and magazines.
Before moving to Duke in 1980, Petroski was on the faculty of the University of Texas at Austin and on the staff of Argonne National Laboratory. He is registered as a professional engineer in Texas and also as a chartered engineer in Ireland.
Petroski has held fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Humanities Center. Among his other honors are the Ralph Coats Roe Medal from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers; the Washington Award from the Western Society of Engineers; and the Civil Engineering History and Heritage Award from the American Society of Civil Engineers, whose history and heritage committee he now chairs. He has received five honorary degrees and is the recipient of distinguished engineering alumnus awards from Manhattan College and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Petroski is a Distinguished Member of the American Society of Civil Engineers and is a Fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the Institution of Engineers of Ireland. He is also an honorary member of the Moles and of Polonia Technica and is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the U.S. National Academy of Engineering.