Confessions of a Future Engineer
By Henry Petroski
(Vintage, Paperback, 9780375718984, 384pp.)
Publication Date: April 8, 2003
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Anyone wondering what sort of experience prepares one for a future as an engineer may be surprised to learn that it includes delivering newspapers. But as Henry Petroski recounts his youth in 1950s Queens, New York–a borough of handball games and inexplicably numbered streets–he winningly shows how his after-school job amounted to a prep course in practical engineering.
Petroksi’s paper was The Long Island Press, whose headlines ran to COP SAVES OLD WOMAN FROM THUG and DiMAG SAYS BUMS CAN’T WIN SERIES. Folding it into a tube suitable for throwing was an exercise in post-Euclidean geometry. Maintaining a Schwinn revealed volumes about mechanics. Reading Paperboy, we also learn about the hazing rituals of its namesakes, the aesthetics of kitchen appliances, and the delicate art of penny-pitching. With gratifying reflections on these and other lessons of a bygone era–lessons about diligence, labor, and community-mindedness–Paperboy is a piece of Americana to cherish and reread.
Henry Petroski is the Aleksandar S. Vesic Professor of Civil Engineering and a professor of history at Duke University. He is the author of nine previous books.
"Petroski writes . . . with the observant eye of an engineer and the imaginative heart of a novelist." –Los Angeles Times
"A fond but clear-eyed glance back at what it was like growing up middle-class and upwardly striving in 1950s New York." –The New York Times Book Review
"[Petroski] once again discovers mystery and magnificence in the mundane. . . . By the end, we’re convinced that no metaphor for life is more apt than a paper route." –Kirkus Reviews
"[A] pleasant trip though an America that has faded into history, with a tour guide who shares with us both the eyes of a young boy and the wisdom of a grown man." –Civil Engineering
"Petroski . . . can see the poetry in a bicycle." –The New York Sun
"Petroski not only can put science in laymen's terms, but also can do so without killing its magic." –The Christian Science Monitor
"Petroski . . . asks us to see the extraordinary in the ordinary." –Chicago Tribune
"Petroski . . . offers a charming account of adolescence in a much different era." –Booklist
"[Petroski is] the poet laureate of engineering." –Rocky Mount Telegram
"The book is a joy to read for anyone who enjoys a good story, not just working on a challenging project." –CE News