In This Review

Cat's Paws and Catapults: Mechanical Worlds of Nature and People
Cat's Paws and Catapults: Mechanical Worlds of Nature and People
By Steven Vogel
W.W. Norton, 1998, 382 pp

A charmingly conceived and written book. Recent years have seen the appearance of a number of insightful writers about engineering, such as Henry Petroski and Samuel Florman. This author joins the group with an amusing, well-illustrated, and intriguing comparison of biological and technological solutions to the same problems. Flight comes immediately to mind, but Vogel explores many other topics, including structural strength and efficiency. Along the way he debunks some assertions of those who claim too much for biomechanics: manned flight did not take off, so to speak, until engineers abandoned their efforts to duplicate the motion of birds; and synthetic spider silk, alas, will not prove as cheap, durable, tough, and comfortable as its pitchmen sometimes claim.