Atom and the Fault by Richard L. Meehan; MIT Press,
This is a detailed, well presented,
superbly argued and absolutely fascinating account of one episode in the
continuing interaction between science, technology, the law and the public
interest. It once and for all puts to rest the idea that science uses a
well defined and unambiguous method and speaks with a single voice. It
makes it clear that experts participating in and testifying before a public
forum are often outside their domain of expertise and therefore speak as
laypersons, not as experts. It shows the need for public standards regulating
the use of expert knowledge. Containing vivid portraits of the individuals
participating in the debate, it shows how even very abstract considerations
are influenced by the character and the temperament of those producing
them. Required reading for historians of science and technology, philosophers
of science, regulatory commissions and the members of citizens' boards
dealing with scientific and technological matters.
University of California and Federal Institute
Sued and Other Tales of the Engineering Life by Richard
MIT Press, 1975
Meehan's book is nine chapters, nine
stories beginning with his freshman year at MIT in 1957. He goes in the
army, he goes around the world to Thailand, he goes down the world to Chile.
I could not stop following him. He really has no extraordinary adventures;
what makes the book extraordinary is his power of observing and reflecting
on himself and what happens around him. He has a special appeal as a subject
since he seems to occasionally go out of control but never out of focus.
Maybe his years as a civil engineer investigating the stability of land
to hold dams and support buildings have benefited his huge literary talents.
There is something very special about these stories. The book has a shocking
ending where he seems to promise the reader that he is finishing himself
off in a lucrative dreariness in Palo Alto, but then if you remember the
book's beginning you see that he thrives by taking turns others don't.