Success Through Failure by Henry Petroski
The funny thing about perfection is that it requires a lot of mistakes. Edison's lightbulb, Darwin's finches, Apple's iPod battery—in each case, the identification and elimination of design flaws led to a better version 2.0. A professor of history and civil engineering at Duke University, Henry Petroski celebrates the screwup in his new book, Success Through Failure, in which to err is both human and divine. Petroski tells iconic tales to demonstrate that mistakes are not obnoxious by-products of innovation but fundamental clues to the ideal.
Made to Break by Giles Slade
According to Made to Break, the planned obsolescence of computers, cell phones, and other technology isn't just a marketing tactic, it's "a uniquely American invention" at the heart of our national character. Author Giles Slade proposes that Americans long ago embraced disposability as a means of distancing themselves from Old World traditions, just as adolescents reject their parents' ideas in order to establish their own identities. Ironically, Slade says, this zeal for the new may lead to our downfall—in effect, we're planning our own obsolescence.
A version of this article appeared in the April 2006 issue of Fast Company magazine.