8 Books Every Engineering Student Should Read

7 Jan, 2024 | Blog Articles, Engineering Articles

Studying engineering is an exciting but challenging venture. Engineers must keep a broad and open mind, coupling this with rigour and analytical skills. Reading around your subject is a great way to encounter new ways of thinking, and to prepare to discuss these ideas in your applications to study Engineering at university. For students considering furthering their knowledge through our Oxford Summer Courses, this reading list is especially pertinent.

The following reading list contains the Engineering books that we think every aspiring Engineer should read. Each one will add something to your understanding and appreciation of Engineering! So, in no particular order:


1. Structures – or Why Things Don’t Fall Down by J.E. Gordon


This Engineering book has been read by countless people with an interest in engineering across the globe. Straightforward and relatively accessible, it is the perfect introduction for aspiring students. This will help ease some of the misunderstandings you may have about engineering, and answer meaningful questions that often get overlooked.


2. The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman


Design is simple, right? You make a product that solves the problem you want to address, and voilà! But in reality, effective and efficient design is an ongoing process accompanying the change and evolution of the world around us. In this book, Don Norman shows how the design of an item serves as a communication channel between a non-living object and its user. Filled with practical tips, this book offers valuable insights into optimal design practices. It’s an excellent read for anyone at any stage of their engineering journey, especially for those gearing up for pre-university Engineering courses like the Oxford Summer School, where such principles are explored in depth to enhance practical design skills.

3. Sustainable Materials – With Both Eyes Open by Julian Allwood and Jonathan Cullen


Engineering designs are heavily dependent on the materials available for use. Sustainability is increasingly important as our global society looks to address urgent environmental concerns. For example, steel and aluminium industries alone account for nearly 30% of global emissions. Governments are now setting emissions targets that rightfully require the engineering industry to reform its practices; the materials we use, and their life cycles, are changing. Serving two purposes, this book is both a wake up call to the environmental impact of engineering and a solutions manual. Not just for engineers, this is an interdisciplinary resource of information and inspiration for how to prevent climate change as a student.


4. The Gecko’s Foot: How Scientists are Taking a Leaf from Nature’s Book by Peter Forbes


Nature is breathtaking. Evolution is even more astounding. The solutions to many of the problems engineers face have in fact already been found and tested by nature. And so, this book argues, our task is to imitate nature by applying natural phenomena to our practical engineering problems. A gecko can scale vertical glass and walk on ceilings, thanks to the millions of bristles that each ramify into hundreds of further projections. This book discusses the work of nano-scientists looking to replicate this feature, among many other examples of scientists harnessing the beautiful solutions of nature. 


5. Engineer to Win by Caroll Smith

Caroll Smith is a legendary high performance Formula 1 racer. As the title suggests this book explores the commitment to performance that is necessary at world-class level. For those serious about becoming a highly successful engineer, this book will enlighten you on the mentality, attitude and skills you will need to build a career. Additionally, it is doubly relevant to those interested in mechanical, aerospace and materials disciplines, given the nature of Smith’s research.

Scientist library

6. An Astronaut’s Guide to Life by Chris Hadfield


This book explores the mind of Christ Hadfield, an astronaut and Chief of the International Space Station, who has worked to bring space science to a level accessible by the general population. Full of insights on life, love, commitment and the determination necessary to be an astronaut, this book will open up a whole new perspective on how to approach your studies and your career as an engineer.

7. Success Through Failure: The Paradox of Design by Henry Petroski


You may have heard the saying “the biggest problem is finding out what the problem itself is.” This is a constant reality and responsibility for engineers, who must design solutions to ever-changing and increasingly complex problems. Sometimes engineers get it almost perfectly right, and other times we don’t. Looking at the essence of invention, Henry Petroski argues that we have often built success on the back of failure, not through the easy imitation of success. He adds that there is no surer road to failure than modelling designs solely on past successes. This book will expand your appreciation of engineers past and present, and will encourage you to adapt your approach to the trickiest engineering problems.


8. How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams


Building on the same ideas of Success Through Failure, this book by Scott Adams gives further tricks and ideas to help you out of sticky situations where you might come across failure. Not just applicable to your engineering concerns, this will help the reader to navigate through life with resilience and the right attitude towards success and failure.


BONUS: How Do Wings Work? by Holger Babinsky

This is a paper written for the Physics Education journal by Holger Babinsky, a professor at the University of Cambridge. In this concise yet insightful paper, Babinksy explores the misconceptions around the solution to the title question, which features in almost all engineering educational settings globally. This paper requires confidence in fluid mechanics and physics, at a level typical of undergraduate students, in order to appreciate and grasp the concepts. 

On our Engineering summer school at the Oxford Scholastica Academy, you will get a chance to explore these concepts before you embark on your university degree in Engineering!


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