Derby British Science Association

Science and Engineering in Derby and Derbyshire

Guest Post: 6 Must-Read Pieces of Literature for Budding Engineers by Samuel Clemens

Pressure Gauge picture by Lotte Gardiner

Pressure Gauge picture by Lotte Gardiner

Engineers shape our world and the various ways we interact with it and with each other: from bridges and buildings to shoes and cell phones. And books on the subject are a necessity for any budding engineer looking to get serious (or comical) about the subject. Here are the 6 must-read pieces of literature for any budding engineer.

The Existential Pleasures of Engineering by Samuel C. Florman. Florman’s book is a love song to the profession and art of engineering, extolling on the art of creating functional objects, the life and verve of engineering from its cold public perception. The Existential Pleasures of Engineering examines man’s need to constantly change the world around him; Florman’s book looks at the beauty and philosophy of that desire. A fantastic book for any level of engineer who wants either some quality introspection or who want some uplifting affirmations to the craft of engineering.

To Engineer Is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design by Henry Petroski. Petroski has written more than a handful of books on engineering and picking up any one of his would qualify for a must-read. To Engineer is Human finds its place on this list for its look at the role of failure striving to achieve great engineering feats. He looks at the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, which galloped like a sine wave, tossing cars over the side, as well as many other infamous and less-known engineering catastrophes.

Engineering and the Liberal Arts by Samuel C. Florman. Part of the McGraw-Hill Series in Continuing Education for Engineers, Engineering and the Liberal Arts is a great book full of all the other things engineers should know that aren’t exactly engineering. Inside you’ll find the history of technology and of history itself, you’ll also find the role of the engineer in literature, literature, music, fine art and a general overview of the liberal arts category.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. While not exactly a text book in many engineering departments required reading lists, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a philosophical text on the serenity and beauty that can sometimes be found in mechanical practices such as motorcycle maintenance.

The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder. Soul of a New Machine tells the story of one computer company’s efforts to design a new microcomputer in the late 1970s, showing all the drama, comedy, obsession and mania that came with inventing a new chapter in the history of arguably the most important invention in human history. The book follows the work that went into Data General’s 32-bit microcomputer and the insane work-ethic that’s been adopted as the norm by start-ups all over the world.

Surely, You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman (Adventures of a Curious Character) by Richard Feynman. This autobiography from the Nobel Prize winning physicist who talked nuclear physics with Einstein isn’t exclusively, or particularly, about engineering; what the book is a romp with one of the most legendary, and quirky, physicists of all time, learning to explore the paths of knowledge and to not give up when faced with difficult challenges. A great source of inspiration that can easily translate into engineering.

Adult readers might also want to check out the works of Thomas Pynchon, such as V. and Gravity’s Rainbow, a novel focusing on the V-2 rocket and with more engineering lingo than you can shake a stick at; Pynchon had worked as a tech writer for Boeing when he began his writing career and his books, if inappropriate for some younger readers, are always chalked full of engineering, fringe science and humour.

About the Author: Samuel Clemens is a former educator and life-long learner who spends his time evaluating study resources for students. See this page for some of the literature study guides Samuel recommends.


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This entry was posted on January 23, 2013 by in Engineering, Guest Authors, Physics and tagged , , , , .

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