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Paperback | $25.00 Short | £17.95 | ISBN: 9780262630894 | 257 pp. | 5.2 x 7.9 in | June 1983

Getting Sued and Other Tales of the Engineering Life


"What is it," a friend of Meehan's once asked, "that you engineers actually do?"

The nine stories in this book, drawn from different periods and episodes in the author's life, clearly and entertainingly convey both the human and technical sides of an engineering education and the life of a consulting engineer. Meehan, who carried a journal with him during the course of his work, brings a quite different perspective to ordinary and extraordinary situations.

Thought to be practical by nature, engineers are also idealistic: "...somewhere out there," Meehan imagines, "is the perfect design, the Perfect Dam." Snowbound on the Rio Pangle and A Dam for La Pra Plerng tell about his investigations of possible dam sites on a plateau in Thailand and in the Chilean Andes.

In the first story Meehan solves an intriguing geological puzzle: "If nature had already built a reservoir here, we should only have to repair the breach in the rockslide dam to restore nature's lake for our own purpose. And yet in all of the site explorations...we found only loose broken rock. When I tried to pump water out of [an abandoned] shaft, it rushed back in as fast as the fifty gallons a minute we could pump. That was at least a number, and when I took that number and translated it mathematically into a leakage rate for a reservoir, the rate was such that the reservoir would never fill. But that's not what happened! It had filled before! Something prevented the water from leaking out. But what? Then I would look over that forlorn landscape again; at the porous gravel, and the loose rocky debris of the fans and the rockslide. Whatever it was, it must be hidden from view. There was a secret waiting to be uncovered; this stony valley was teasing me with clues...."

At Lam Pra Plerng as an AID soil engineer, Meehan unfolds a series of political and social misadventures, portrays warm friendships and everyday life in the Thai jungle, and in the process carries out what may be the most unusual experiment in appropriate technology ever recorded.

Coming of Age at SAE, The Man Who Bought Route 128, and A Freshman Retrospective describe aspects of Meehan's engineering education at MIT. Here he is introduced to the political dimensions and ethical implications of consulting engineering and to the fundamental basis of his future work.

Confessions of a Military Engineer presents vignettes from life inside the Army Corps of Engineers, while Sediment finds the author involved in a dispute between a small town's Department of Public Works and the U. S. Forest Service. Haiti One More Time brings together Meehan's MIT training, earthquakes, retaining walls, and politics with a bemused touch.

"They came after me when I was in bed with the flu," Meehan writes in the last story. His predicament in Getting Sued is all downhill after that. A young engineer starting a new business, a new highschool, "fat clay," and a casual contractor and construction crew are the ingredients of what may be every engineer's nightmare.

Richard Meehan's career has taken him from MIT to the Andes of central Chile and to northeast Thailand, where "there were insects that laid eggs in your skin as you slept."

About the Author

Richard Meehan is an adjunct professor in the Values, Technology, Science, and Society program at Stanford University.


"Meehan's anecdotal essays on his education, socialization, and professional experiences as a geotechnical engineer should be illuminating to people who think of engineers as a dull lot and engineering as a dehumanized profession. Each of the nine essays - or perhaps stories - in this book could stand on its own and several would not look out of place in the New Yorker. Meehan has a remarkable flair for catching the essence of a person ... a locale, a social situation, or a piece of work.... This book belongs on the shelf with Florman's The Existential Pleasures of Engineering ... and is recommended to every student contemplating an engineering career as well as students and practitioners of the profession. A general audience will find the book a good 'read' with much wit, wisdom, and humanity."
- Science Books & Films