8 Books Every Engineering Student Should Read
Studying engineering is an exciting but challenging venture. It is essential that engineers 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.
The following reading list contains the books that we think should be read by any current or aspiring Engineering student. 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 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 engineering students as well as a helpful tool for those beyond that stage. This will help ease some of the misunderstandings you may have about engineering, and answer meaningful questions that often get overlooked. For established students of Engineering, this book helps to strip back the subject to its raw essentials.
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. Tips and tricks give readers a better insight on how to build objects in the best way. And so this is a great read for anyone, at any stage in their engineering career!
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 all parties involved in addressing the climate crisis.
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.
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 modeling 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 feature 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.
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