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Normal Accidents:
Living with High Risk Technologies
Updated edition
Charles Perrow
With a new afterword and a new postscript by the author

Paperback | 1999 | $49.95 | ($34.97) / £34.95 | (£24.47) | ISBN: 9780691004129
464 pp. | 6 x 9
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Reviews | Table of Contents

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Normal Accidents analyzes the social side of technological risk. Charles Perrow argues that the conventional engineering approach to ensuring safety--building in more warnings and safeguards--fails because systems complexity makes failures inevitable. He asserts that typical precautions, by adding to complexity, may help create new categories of accidents. (At Chernobyl, tests of a new safety system helped produce the meltdown and subsequent fire.) By recognizing two dimensions of risk--complex versus linear interactions, and tight versus loose coupling--this book provides a powerful framework for analyzing risks and the organizations that insist we run them.

The first edition fulfilled one reviewer's prediction that it "may mark the beginning of accident research." In the new afterword to this edition Perrow reviews the extensive work on the major accidents of the last fifteen years, including Bhopal, Chernobyl, and the Challenger disaster. The new postscript probes what the author considers to be the "quintessential 'Normal Accident'" of our time: the Y2K computer problem.


"[Normal Accidents is] a penetrating study of catastrophes and near catastrophes in several high-risk industries. Mr. Perrow ... writes lucidly and makes it clear that `normal' accidents are the inevitable consequences of the way we launch industrial ventures.... An outstanding analysis of organizational complexity."--John Pfeiffer, The New York Times

"[Perrow's] research undermines promises that `better management' and `more operator training' can eliminate catastrophic accidents. In doing so, he challenges us to ponder what could happen to justice, community, liberty, and hope in a society where such events are normal."--Deborah A. Stone, Technology Review

"Normal Accidents is a testament to the value of rigorous thinking when applied to a critical problem."--Nick Pidgeon, Nature

Table of Contents:

Abnormal Blessings vii
Introduction 3
1. Normal Accident at Three Mile Island 15
2. Nuclear Power as a High-Risk System: Why We Have Not Had More TMIs--But Will Soon 32
3. Complexity, Coupling, and Catastrophe 62
4. Petrochemical Plants 101
5. Aircraft and Airways 123
6. Marine Accidents 170
7. Earthbound Systems: Dams, Quakes, Mines, and Lakes 232
8. Exotics: Space, Weapons, and DNA 256
9. Living with High-Risk Systems 304
Afterword 353
Postscript: The Y2K Problem 388
List of Acronyms 413
Notes 415
Bibliography 426
Index 441

This book has been translated into:

  • Chinese (Complex)
  • Spanish

Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Charles Perrow:

Subject Areas:

Hardcover published in 1984 by Basic Books

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