Inviting Disaster: Lessons from the Edge of Technology; An Inside Look at Catastrophes and Why They Happen

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9780066620817: Inviting Disaster: Lessons from the Edge of Technology; An Inside Look at Catastrophes and Why They Happen

Combining captivating storytelling with eye-opening findings, Inviting Disaster delves inside some of history's worst catastrophes in order to show how increasingly "smart" systems leave us wide open to human tragedy.

Weaving a dramatic narrative that explains how breakdowns in these systems result in such disasters as the chain reaction crash of the Air France Concorde to the meltdown at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station, Chiles vividly demonstrates how the battle between man and machine may be escalating beyond manageable limits -- and why we all have a stake in its outcome.

Included in this edition is a special introduction providing a behind-the-scenes look at the World Trade Center catastrophe. Combining firsthand accounts of employees' escapes with an in-depth look at the structural reasons behind the towers' collapse, Chiles addresses the question, Were the towers "two tall heroes" or structures with a fatal flaw?

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Review:

Inviting Disaster, by technology and history writer James R Chiles, is an unusual book: it appeals to the prurient desires that keep us riveted to highway accidents, while knowledgeably discoursing on the often preventable mistakes that caused them. At its heart are the colourful stories behind more than 50 of the most infamous catastrophes that periodically chilled the advance of the industrial age, both those well remembered (the 1986 Challenger explosion, for example) and those now largely forgotten (a 1937 gas explosion at a Texas school that killed 298). But along with lively depictions of these deadly devastations and white-knuckle calamities--the Maine battleship, Apollo 13 and Three Mile Island among them--Chiles offers an informed analysis of the unfortunate chain of events that brought them about. And by grouping like incidents to show how fatal "system fractures" eventually developed through a combination of human error and mechanical malfunction, he also suggests how we might sidestep such tragedies in the future. In so doing he fashions these spectacular accounts of failed planes, trains, ships, bridges, dam s, factories and other conveyances and facilities, into a cautionary tale about the progress we are making to "learn the way of the machine (and) act before an otherwise routine day rises to disaster". -- Howard Rothman

Review:

“ultimatly hopeful, recounting numerous acts of foresight or bravery in the face of bureaucratic opposition” (Publisher's Weekly)

“Full of scary news, but unsensational and thoroughly documented. Just don’t read it in flight.” (Kirkus Reviews)

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