Recommended Reading for Budding Engineers

Engineering students in the past have found that the following books give an interesting insight into engineering. We have included a short review of each title, courtesy of amazon.co.uk, and, where possible, a reader's comments (again courtesy of amazon.co.uk). Please remember that these books are NOT required reading for the course – you don't have to buy any books before you come to Cambridge. We hope you enjoy reading from this selection. Click on a book's title to find out more about it.

Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air by David J.C. MacKay
published by UIT, 2008. Cost: approx. £20. (ISBN 0954452933)

This book is available as a free download from www.withouthotair.com/download.html.

Reader's comment: A delight to read and will appeal especially to practical people who want to understand what is important in energy and what is not.

More reviews can be found at www.withouthotair.com/reviews.html.

How Do Wings Work? by Holger Babinsky
published by Physics Education, 2003. Cost: free. (doi: 10.1088/0031-9120/38/6/001)

Not a book but a paper published in the Institute of Physics journal Physics Education that is available as a free download from the Physics Education website.

Abstract

The popular explanation of lift is common, quick, sounds logical and gives the correct answer, yet also introduces misconceptions, uses a nonsensical physical argument and misleadingly invokes Bernoulli's equation. A simple analysis of pressure gradients and the curvature of streamlines is presented here to give a more correct explanation of lift.

Sustainable Materials – With Both Eyes Open by Julian Allwood and Jonathan Cullen
published by UIT Cambridge Ltd., 2012. Cost: approx. £25. (ISBN 190686005X)

This book is available as a free download from http://withbotheyesopen.com/read.php.

Synopsis

Materials, transformed from natural resources into buildings, equipment, vehicles and goods that underpin our remarkable lifestyles, are made with amazing efficiency. But our growing demand is not sustainable, so this optimistic, entertaining and richly informed book evaluates all the options ... with both eyes open.

Reviews

Reader's comment: A book about how we make and use steel, aluminium, cement, plastic and paper could easily be pretty dull, but in fact "Sustainable Materials with Both Eyes Open" is surprisingly brilliant. As most of the things that surround us – from buildings and roads to cars and washing machines – are made from these materials, the authors bring them to life with this accessible, fact-filled and entertaining read.

More reviews can be found at http://withbotheyesopen.com/reviews.php.

Engineering in Society edited by Rob Lawlor
published by the Royal Academy of Engineering, 2013. Cost: free.

An e-book published by the Royal Academy of Engineering that is available as a free (pdf) download from the RAEng website.

Synopsis

Students often have misconceptions about a career in engineering. They tend to underestimate the importance of communication and negotiation, or don't realise the amount of responsibility that they are likely to have, and the extent to which they will have to use their own judgement, and make their own decisions.

The purpose of this e-book, therefore, is to give students new to engineering an initial insight into the profession and some idea of what their future career might look like.

Engineering: A Beginner's Guide by Natasha McCarthy
published by Oneworld Publications, 2009. Cost: approx. £10. (ISBN 1851686622)

Synopsis

Focusing on the impact of engineering on society and the world, McCarthy details the development of the discipline, explains what makes an engineering mind, and shows how every aspect of our lives has been engineered: from gadgets to our national infrastructure. Long considered tinkerers, problem solvers, and visionaries, engineers hold the keys to our real and virtual future.

Reviews

Reader's comment: I knew nothing of engineering when I read this and wasn't sure what I would get from it but I finished by looking at the world differently. It highlighted the moral dilemmas created by the engineering we take for granted and made me think of engineering in a completely different way. Not only has it shed light on what engineers do but it has enabled me to think a little bit like an engineer when I face reality. It is a book about humanity solving some big problems and creating others. And its a quick read! There is something really nice about the way McCarthy writes. Simple. Clear. To the point. Insightful. Erudite. But never preaching nor condescending. It is as if a wise person is guiding you through places you needed to see but never knew you did. I thoroughly recommend this book.

The New Science of Strong Materials – or Why You Don't Fall Through the Floor by J.E. Gordon
published by Penguin, 1991. Cost: approx. £13. (ISBN 0140135979)

Synopsis

Why isn't wood weaker than it is? Why isn't steel stronger? Why does glass sometimes shatter and sometimes bend like spring? Why do ships break in half? What is a liquid and is treacle one? All these are questions about the nature of materials. All of them are vital to engineers but also fascinating as scientific problems. During the 250 years up to the 1920s and 1930s they had been answered largely by seeing how materials behaved in practice. But materials continued to do things that they "ought" not to have done. Only in the last 40 years have these questions begun to be answered by a new approach. Material scientists have started to look more deeply into the make-up of materials. They have found many surprises; above all, perhaps, that how a material behaves depends on how perfectly – or imperfectly – its atoms are arranged. Using both SI and imperial units, Professor Gordon's account of material science is a demonstration of the sometimes curious and entertaining ways in which scientists isolate and solve problems.

Reviews

Reader's comment: An informative look at what holds everything together. If you have, or are presently studying science A-levels, then this book should not prove a problem. However if the mere sight of an equation, large numbers, or graphs, makes you feel weak at the knees then you can stop reading now. To begin, the book deals with the general properties of all materials. It explains how materials are used to their best in either compression or tension, and explains the reasons behind it using facts and figures, whilst diagrams help you to understand it on the microscopic level. The influence of cracks on different substances is also discussed and the theories for why some objects are left brittle whilst others are not. The second half of the book concerns itself with specific material groups such as timber and metals. If you have an interested in Building, Architecture or design, you will probably find this book will enlighten you to a few things in a 'non-textbook' way.

Structures – or Why Things Don't Fall Down by J.E. Gordon
published by DaCapo Press, 2003. Cost: approx. £11. (ISBN 0306812835)

Synopsis

In "The New Science of Strong Materials" the author made plain the secrets of materials science. In this volume he explains the importance and properties of different structures.

Reviews

Reader's comment: Very readable book on everyday engineering structures. I am a mechanical engineer and during my undergraduate years I was crying out for a book like this. It's easy to read and anyone with even the most basic concept of structures will find it very informative. The author explains why structures are built the way they are and points to the lessons that can be learned from nature. Structures enhanced my appreciation of architecture and has even taught me a few new concepts. I would think it's almost essential for any structural engineer to have a copy. A very enjoyable light read.

Cats' Paws and Catapults: Mechanical Worlds of Nature and People by Steven Vogel
published by W.W. Norton & Co., 2000. Cost: approx. £15. (ISBN 0393319903)

Synopsis

Human designers love right angles, but nature prefers to be round and curved; we like to be dry, whereas nature tends to be wet; we use wheels in diverse ways, but nature's only true wheels occur in bacteria. This text introduces us to the world of biomechanics and explains how physical law and historical accident became our world's most supreme architects.

Reviews

Reader's comment: This wonderful, insightful book will excite your curiosity and change the way you view the living world. Professor Steven Vogel, world authority on motion in fluids, takes the reader on a tour of discovery, comparing human inventions with the ingenuity of Nature. Beautifully and clearly written, this important new book brings biology and technology together for a wider readership. I really love this book and could not put it down.

The Gecko's Foot: How Scientists are Taking a Leaf from Nature's Book by Peter Forbes
published by Harper Perennial, 2006. Cost: approx. £9. (ISBN 0007179898)

Synopsis

A cutting-edge science book in the style of 'Fermat's Last Theorem' and 'Chaos' from an exciting and accessible new voice in popular science writing. Bio-inspiration is a form of engineering but not in the conventional sense. Extending beyond our established and preconceived notions, scientists, architects and engineers are looking at imitating nature by manufacturing 'wet' materials such as spider silk or the surface of the gecko's foot. The amazing power of the gecko's foot has long been known -- it can climb a vertical glass wall and even walk upside down on the ceiling -- but no ideas could be harnessed from it because its mechanism could not be seen with the power of optical microscopes. Recently however the secret was solved by a team of scientists in Oregon who established that the mechanism really is dry, and that it does not involve suction, capillary action or anything else the lay person might imagine. Each foot has half a million bristles and each bristle ramifies into hundreds of finer spatula-shaped projections. The fine scale of the gecko's foot is beyond the capacity of conventional microengineering, but a team of nanotechnologists have already made a good initial approximation. The gecko's foot is just one of many examples of this new 'smart' science. We also discover, amongst other things, how George de Mestral's brush with the spiny fruits of the cocklebur inspired him to invent Velcro; how the shape of leaves opening from a bud has inspired the design of solar-powered satellites; and the parallels between cantilever bridges and the spines of large mammals such as the bison. The new 'smart' science of Bio-inspiration is going to produce a plethora of products over the next decades that will transform our lives, and force us to look at the world in a completely new way. It is science we will be reading about in our papers very soon; it is the science of tomorrow's world.

Reviews

Reader's comment: This is a very informative book, which gives much information about nano, and links many unknown connections between metal and biology. This book gives an introduction to many possible advances in science for the future.

What Engineers Know and How They Know It: Analytical Studies from Aeronautical History by W.G. Vincenti
published by Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993. Cost: approx. £16. (ISBN 0801845882)

Synopsis

To solve their design problems, engineers draw on a vast body of knowledge about how things work. Examining previously unstudied historical cases, this author shows how engineering knowledge is obtained and presents a model to help explain the growth of such knowledge.

Reviews

Reader's comment: A rebuff to reductionists. Having read this book some years ago I have since bought 20 copies to give to friends and colleagues interested in Engineering, Science, and the philosophy of either. The introduction makes a good attempt to distinguish between engineering and science and has, I believe, at least some of that story – which has yet to be told properly. But the real meat is in the five case studies each of which shows how, through engineering, science has developed empirically. Scientific 'laws' are just our latest working models.

Reader's comment: Vincenti shows the way technologies mature. I am an instructional technologist dealing a lot with the design and development of products in a young technology, computer-based instruction. My technology is in its youth compared to other technologies that have become essential to our social and economic operations. I am interested in knowing the stages my technology will go through and the types of knowledge it must accumulate as it matures, which seems certain, given current interest and ferment. Vincenti describes how aeronautics technologies grew and went through their stages, and this has given me insight into my own. This is not a book of idealized process for implementing technology. It is a set of historical case studies, some of which Vincenti himself participated in, others of which he researched. The book is not easy to read, but I have found it very rewarding. It is full of technical terms and heavy technology. At the same time, if you pay the price in effort and study this book carefully, you will not be disappointed. You will see how technologies develop, and knowing this, you will be able to anticipate developments and needs in your own area of growth.

Flying Buttresses, Entropy and O-Rings: The World of an Engineer by James L. Adams
published by Harvard University Press, 1992. Cost: approx. £18. (ISBN 0674306899)

Synopsis

James Adams begins with a history of technology and the engineering profession. The author next takes the reader on a guided tour of the engineer's world, beginning with design and invention – the part of engineering that generates new ideas. The next stop is in the field of mathematics, the discipline that allows engineers to build sophisticated products yet makes it a mystical enterprise to the lay public. Science and research, we learn, are the source of many creative directions in technology, but the interrelations between "basic" and "applied" professions are reciprocal and subtle. Experiment and testing introduce the trial-and-error aspect of engineering, which reduces, but can never eliminate, risk and failure. The author also covers manufacturing and assembly, practical processes that impose constraints on the idealistic inventions of the designer's mind; business and money, the latter being required to finance engineering and the former being the means for generating the money; and the controversial but inevitable role of technology regulation. "Flying Buttresses, Entropy and O-rings" aims to demystify a profession that is quite often taken for granted and to inspire an appreciation of the world of engineering.

Reviews

Reader's comment: Being an engineer as well I fully identify with lots of the stuff written in this book and I enjoyed it very much. It would be a good book to read for recent graduates about to embark on the real work. Although heavily geared towards mechanical engineering, the message can be transposed to other fields of course. Highly recommended.

Bebop to the Boolean Boogie: An Unconventional Guide to Electronics by Clive Maxfield
published by Newnes (Elsevier), 2009. Cost: approx. £20. (ISBN 1856175073)

Synopsis

This entertaining and readable book provides a solid, comprehensive introduction to contemporary electronics. It's not a "how-to-do" electronics book, but rather an in-depth explanation of how today's integrated circuits work, how they are designed and manufactured, and how they are put together into powerful and sophisticated electronic systems. In addition to the technical details, it's packed with practical information of interest and use to engineers and support personnel in the electronics industry. It even explains how to pronounce the alphabet soup of acronyms that runs rampant in the industry.

Reviews

Stephan Ohr (Contributing Editor to Computer Design): Maxfield literally takes the digital bull by the horns. We are treated to explanations of Boolean algebra, transistor switches, an introduction to logic and memory circuits, even customer-designed (application specific) integrated circuits, delivered in a lively style with well-thought-out illustrations and indexes. For those of us who love electronics or love finding out how things work.

Brian Moran (Manager of Technical Evangelism, Microsoft): When you turn on everyday electronic appliances and computers, there's an electron dance that goes on inside. Max's book can help you hear and understand the music and learn the steps. Read this book and you'll have a greater appreciation of how things work (or, how they should work), and you may even pick up some Karnaugh knowledge along the way!

Pete Waddell (Editor, Printed Circuit Design): This is a dangerous book. Not only do you stand a chance of learning something from it, but ten years from now you will still remember it!

Invention by Design – How Engineers get from Thought to Thing by Henry Petroski
published by Harvard University Press, 1998. Cost: approx. £15. (ISBN 0674463684)

Synopsis

In this book, Petroski delves deeper into the mystery of invention, to explore what everyday artifacts and sophisticated networks can reveal about the way engineers solve problems. Engineering entails more than knowing the way things work. What do economics and ecology, aesthetics and ethics, have to do with the shape of a paper clip, the tab of a beverage can, the cabin design of a turbojet, or the course of a river? How do the idiosyncrasies of individual engineers, companies and communities leave their mark on projects from Velcro to fax machines to waterworks? "Invention by Design" offers an insider's look at these political and cultural dimensions of design and development, production and construction. Henry Petroski's previous books include: "To Engineer Is Human", which was developed into a BBC television documentary; "The Pencil": "The Evolution of Useful Things"; and "Engineers of Dreams".

Reviews

Reader's comment: A fascinating and informative read. As a prospective engineering student I found this book truly enjoyable. It is very detailed yet fascinating and should inspire all of its readers to think about the design of everyday objects.

To Engineer is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design by Henry Petroski
published by Vintage Books, 1992. Cost: approx. £14. (ISBN 0679734163)

Synopsis

Examines the process of engineering design and explains what can be learned by studying unsuccessful designs and the reasons for their failure.

Reviews

Reader's comment: I nearly gave up around page 21 where there is, considering the author's credentials, an astonishing error. The author explains how he demonstrates metal fatigue to his classes: by bending a paper clip back and forth until it breaks. He concludes "...that, I tell the class, is failure by fatigue";. Well no actually, it's work hardening. In chapter 4, the author appears to confuse hypothesis and presupposition. At another point, he uses the term "stresses and strains of modern life". This is not wrong in itself but it further shakes ones confidence. Engineers tend not to use the phrase in this commonplace way because "stress" and "strain" have quite specific (and totally different) meanings in engineering. It is a bit like those war films where the radio operator says "over and out". It jars because a professional would say "over" or "out" but not both. There is more. The English is pretty bad at times ("ingeniousness" instead of "ingenuity" on page 16 and "fail-proofness" on page 44). Much of the first half came over to me as a poorly structured stream of consciousness. The second half, for me, made it worth wading through all this; although the author still did not always follow through the thoughts that he fired off. The section on the crystal palace was fascinating, as was the story of the 50th anniversary of the Golden Gate bridge in the Afterword to the Vintage edition. For me, the whole book was worth the single sentence :designed objects change the future into which they will age"; in other words new technology leads to ...new ways of doing things which leads to ...new possibilities of failure which ...were not covered in the design because people didn't do things that way then. Not a brilliant book, and some pretty basic gaffes which are difficult to understand – but worth reading as a whole.

Remaking the World by Henry Petroski
published by Vintage Books, 1999. Cost: approx. £9. (ISBN 0375700242)

Synopsis

Exploring the role of engineers in transforming and shaping the modern world, the author of The Evolution of Useful Things elucidates the principles of engineering as he looks at such achievements as the English Channel tunnel, the Panama Canal, and the Hoover Dam.

Reviews

Reader's comment: This is a fine tome about engineering for those of us who scraped thru algebra! Should be required reading for *every* high school student. It gives a lot of basic information in understandable writing. Such as how did radio get to where it is today. Because of yacht racing... Now if that doesn't tease the brain, I don't know what else will...

Small Things Considered: Why there is No Perfect Design by Henry Petroski
published by Random House, 2004. Cost: approx. £14. (ISBN 1400032938)

Reviews

Reader's comment: Design is not simple a matter of imagination; ergonomics, previous design, surroundings, materials and anatomy all have an influence on the design of things we use. Author Petroski wanders from toothbrushes (those ergonomically comfortable handles that help you brush don't fit into the toothbrush holder on the wall anymore) to drinking glasses (stylish square-shaped old-fashioned glasses can have you dribbling like a three-year old.) He takes the most mundane items (shopping bags, doors) as illustrations for the designer, the engineer and the lay person to consider; what are the rules of design and what influences must you take into consideration.

I am a fan of Petroski's books; another book "To Engineer is Human" answers the question why that hotel walkway in Kansas City collapsed in the 1980's, killing and maiming hundreds. The designer failed to consider how the bolt holding the beam to the upright supports could actually be physically built, and the builder took the design and altered it, cutting the uprights in two and thus changing the characteristics of the beam's behavior under load stress. In "Small Things Considered", Petroski takes the most simple items and illustrates how human behavior and design go hand in hand. A delightful book to read.

Pushing the Limits: New Adventures in Engineering by Henry Petroski
published by Vintage Books, 2005. Cost: approx. £9. (ISBN 1400032946)

Reviews

The Washington Post Book World: A fascinating potpourri of history, engineering, and imagination, all presented in the fluid, humane writing style that we have come to expect from this author.

Reader's comment: In the push for longer bridges, taller buildings and larger-scale projects of all sizes, engineers face new challenges which go beyond physics to tackle the aesthetics and functionality of engineering itself. Henry Petroski's "Pushing the Limits" tells stories of daring enterprises which envisioned engineering achievements beyond ordinary measure; from Philadelphia's Benjamin Franklin Bridge to China's Three Gorges Dam project. His isn't just a celebration of technological achievement either: "Pushing the Limits" also examines the underlying costs and problems of such projects, focusing on both design and human challenges in the process.

Design Paradigms: Case Histories of Error and Judgment in Engineering by Henry Petroski
published by Cambridge University Press, 1994. Cost: approx. £25. (ISBN 0521466490)

Synopsis

From ancient Greek temples to twentieth-century towers, engineers have learned more about design from failure than success. The concept of error, according to the author, is central to the design process. As a way of explaining the enduring aspects of engineering design, he relates stories of some of the greatest engineering successes and failures of all time. These case studies, drawn from a wide range of times and places, serve as paradigms of error and judgment in engineering design. By showing how errors were introduced in the design process and how they might be avoided, the book suggests how better quality and reliability might be achieved in designed devices, structures, and systems of all kinds. Clearly written, with striking illustrations, the book will appeal to engineering students, practising engineers, historians of science and technology, and all those interested in learning about the process of design.

Reviews

Reader's comment: Petroski illustrates the real-life risks of novel technologies with this selection of classic failures in structural engineering. Petroski argues that design assumptions from old technologies are extrapolated to novel technogies. The fact that the old designs were successful lends weight to the usefulness of the design assumptions. However, new design principles manifest unanticipated failure modes that are not prevented or ameliorated by the conventional wisdom. Here are several cautionary tales and the book should be read by anyone involved in risk analysis – especially those benighted in naively quantitative approaches.

Success Through Failure: The Paradox of Design by Henry Petroski
published by Princeton University Press, 2008. Cost: approx. £15. (ISBN 0691136424)

Synopsis

Design pervades our lives. Everything from drafting a PowerPoint presentation to planning a state-of-the-art bridge embodies this universal human activity. But what makes a great design? In this compelling and wide-ranging look at the essence of invention, distinguished engineer and author Henry Petroski argues that, time and again, we have built success on the back of failure – not through easy imitation of success. "Success through Failure" shows us that making something better – by carefully anticipating and thus averting failure – is what invention and design are all about. Petroski explores the nature of invention and the character of the inventor through an unprecedented range of both everyday and extraordinary examples – illustrated lectures, child-resistant packaging for drugs, national constitutions, medical devices, the world's tallest skyscrapers, long-span bridges, and more. Stressing throughout that there is no surer road to eventual failure than modeling designs solely on past successes, he sheds new light on spectacular failures, from the destruction of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in 1940 and the space shuttle disasters of recent decades, to the collapse of the World Trade Center in 2001. Petroski also looks at the prehistoric and ancient roots of many modern designs. The historical record, especially as embodied in failures, reveals patterns of human social behavior that have implications for large structures like bridges and vast organizations like NASA. "Success through Failure" – which will fascinate anyone intrigued by design, including engineers, architects, and designers themselves – concludes by speculating on when we can expect the next major bridge failure to occur, and the kind of bridge most likely to be involved.

Reviews

Reader's comment: You don't need to be an engineer to enjoy this book. Petroski is a skillful author who conveys in a lucid style the risks and challenges of engineering and innovation. But the lessons from this book go much further and are applicable to any technological activity and any field of innovation. For me, the two principle lessons from the book were: absence of failure is not proof of safety, and it is only the study of failure that can lead to better performance. This is not only true of technology but also of human performance, complex systems and management. A fantastic book that is a constant inspiration.

The Essential Engineer: Why Science Alone Will Not Solve Our Global Problems by Henry Petroski
published by Knopf Publishing Group, 2010. Cost: approx. £17. (ISBN 0307272451)

Synopsis

From the acclaimed author of "The Pencil" and "To Engineer Is Human", "The Essential Engineer" is an eye-opening exploration of the ways in which science and engineering must work together to address our world's most pressing issues, from dealing with climate change and the prevention of natural disasters to the development of efficient automobiles and the search for renewable energy sources. While the scientist may identify problems, it falls to the engineer to solve them. It is the inherent practicality of engineering, which takes into account structural, economic, environmental, and other factors that science often does not consider, that makes engineering vital to answering our most urgent concerns.

Henry Petroski takes us inside the research, development, and debates surrounding the most critical challenges of our time, exploring the feasibility of biofuels, the progress of battery-operated cars, and the question of nuclear power. He gives us an in-depth investigation of the various options for renewable energy – among them solar, wind, tidal, and ethanol – explaining the benefits and risks of each. Will windmills soon populate our landscape the way they did in previous centuries? Will synthetic trees, said to be more efficient at absorbing harmful carbon dioxide than real trees, soon dot our prairies? Will we construct a "sunshade" in outer space to protect ourselves from dangerous rays? In many cases, the technology already exists. What's needed is not so much invention as engineering.

Just as the great achievements of centuries past – the steamship, the airplane, the moon landing – once seemed beyond reach, the solutions to the twenty-first century's problems await only a similar coordination of science and engineering. Eloquently reasoned and written, "The Essential Engineer" identifies and illuminates these problems – and, above all, sets out a course for putting ideas into action.

Reviews

Reader's comment: In this highly engrossing book, Petroski eloquently challenges a fundamental and profound bias in our society – the relegation of engineers and engineering to second-class status among professions. He traces to roots of the perceived primacy of science over engineering to the Western Platonic bias that "ideas are superior and prerequisite to things" and to the simplistic linear model of research-before-development promulgated by science administrator Vannevar Bush in the 1940s. Petroski uses examples such as the steam engine, powered flight and rocketry, to demonstrate that engineering often leads science, and also that science is a tool of engineering. He also compellingly describes the optimistic, challenging, rewarding nature of engineering, showing its satisfying creativity. And to demonstrate the richness of engineering, he takes the reader through a tour of technologies as seen through the eyes of an engineer, including speed bumps and humps, dams, climate change, "geoengineering" of the earth to combat climate change, renewable energy, nanotechnology, robotics, structural earthquake engineering, hurricane protection, airline accidents, the electric power grid, evolution of the automobile, and "financial engineering." This book is essential reading, not only for engineers and students, but for all of us who benefit from the vast wealth of technology that makes modern life possible.

Why Buildings Fall Down by Matthys Levy and Mario Salvadori
published by W.W. Norton & Company Ltd., 1994. Cost: approx. £13. (ISBN 039331152X)

Synopsis

"Whatever goes up must come down" does not, fortunately, apply to most of the structures in today's world. In fact, whenever a building, a bridge, a tunnel, or a dam collapses nowadays, it is front page news and often the beginning of a hunt for clues and culprits as fascinating as any detective story. In this book, two of the world's premier structural engineers take us on a journey through the history of architectural and structural catastrophes, from the Parthenon and Rome's Coliseum to more recent disasters such as the Ronan Point Tower in London, the Hyatt Regency in Kansas City and the Malpasset Dam in France. This is a book that delights as it instructs, an easily digested feast of architectural flops and flummoxes, whether caused by natural disaster or human error, or both.

Reviews

Reader's comment: Having read 'Why buildings stand up' I immediately searched this one out. This book continues to be an excellent read for technical and non-technical persons who have an interest in structures. Fascinating!

Reader's comment: This was a great introduction to the fundamentals of building science – understanding why things don't work is a great help in understanding why they do. Each chapter discusses one example of something that went wrong and explains another reason why structures can fail.

Reader's comment: We see all the time buildings working as they should (i.e., standing up and not collapsing), however, it is very interesting to read of some real life collapses. Salvadori does an excellant job of writing so that people without a technical background can understand why these structures failed. And he writes with such detail that engineers are not bored by lack of detail. Simpley explained, fully detailed, and thoroughly researched. Excellant book for anyone who is interested in buildings, structures, or failures!

Why Buildings Stand Up by Mario Salvadori
published by W.W. Norton & Company Ltd., 1991. Cost: approx. £10. (ISBN 0393306763)

Synopsis

The alliance between architecture and structure and the people who forged it is the topic of this book. The author provides an introduction to building methods from ancient times to the present day.

Reviews

Reader's comment: Working in the construction industry I was instantly attracted to the title of this book. I found it an excellent 'back to basics' read. The book is written in a non-technical language and will be a fascinating to read to anyone and i mean anyone who has ever gazed at a building and wondered 'Why Buildings Stand up?'

The Science of Formula 1 Design by David Tremayne
published by J.H. Haynes & Co. Ltd., 2009. Cost: approx. £20. (ISBN 1844253406)

Synopsis

Leading F1 journalist David Tremayne unravels the mysteries of modern Grand Prix car design in a revised and updated 2nd edition of this fascinating all-colour book. The authoritative, extensively illustrated text explains just how an F1 car works. The philosophy and technology behind the chassis, engine, transmission, electronics, steering, suspension, brakes, tyres and aerodynamics are analysed, and the important question of how these parts and systems interact is explored. This is an absorbing insight into the secretive and technology-driven world of racing car design at its highest level.

Reviews

Reader's comment: I wanted to read a book on the F1 car because I have a keen interest and also because I had an interview for the University of Cambridge. Seeing that this book is on Cambridge's recommended reading list for engineering and reading a bit about the book made it the ideal choice. I was amazed at how much work goes into these cars and how many people work behind the scenes. I thought I know quite a bit about Formula 1 but this book explores everything to do with the Formula 1 car and the sport in general. The simplistic way in which things were explained combined with the lack of jargon made it enjoyable, informative but not a task like reading a textbook. It could be read just for pleasure. However, I was slightly disappointed that more detail wasn't given on certain areas for example in the aerodynamics section. I feel there was more that could have been expanded on like the diffuser section. Although that's possibly why Giorgio Piola has released another book, Formula 1: 2009/2010 Technical Analysis (Formula 1 Technical Analysis). However, for what I needed it for it was perfect and I would recommend it to anyone from a F1 fan to an F1 fanatic.

The Simple Science of Flight by Henk Tennekes
published by MIT Press, 2009. Cost: approx. £17. (ISBN 0262513137)

Synopsis

From the smallest gnat to the largest aircraft, all things that fly obey the same aerodynamic principles. In The Simple Science of Flight, Henk Tennekes investigates just how machines and creatures fly: what size wings they need, how much energy is required for their journeys, how they cross deserts and oceans, how they take off, climb, and soar. Fascinated by the similarities between nature and technology, Tennekes offers an introduction to flight that teaches by association. Swans and Boeings differ in numerous ways, but they follow the same aerodynamic principles. Biological evolution and its technical counterpart exhibit exciting parallels. What makes some airplanes successful and others misfits? Why does the Boeing 747 endure but the Concorde now seem a fluke? Tennekes explains the science of flight through comparisons, examples, equations, and anecdotes. The new edition of this popular book has been thoroughly revised and much expanded. Highlights of the new material include a description of the incredible performance of bar-tailed godwits (7,000 miles nonstop from Alaska to New Zealand), an analysis of the convergence of modern jetliners (from both Boeing and Airbus), a discussion of the metabolization of energy featuring Lance Armstrong, a novel treatment of the aerodynamics of drag and trailing vortices, and an emphasis throughout on evolution, in nature and in engineering. Tennekes draws on new evidence on bird migration, new wind-tunnel studies, and data on new airliners. And his analysis of the relative efficiency of planes, trains, and automobiles is newly relevant. (On a cost-per-seat scale, a 747 is more efficient than a passenger car.)

Reviews

Reader's comment: Tennekes' book is a real treasure in its field! The author's strength lies in explaining in a comprehensible manner which flight parameters are essential for flying objects in general and by using easy to understand comparison examples he shows that there are many connections between the "design principles" of birds and airplanes. The revised version contains many new interesting facts and considering the price/quality ratio there is no better opportunity to fight the financial crisis than by buying this book!

Understanding Flight by David W. Anderson and Scott Eberhart
published by McGraw-Hill Professional, 2009. Cost: approx. £18. (ISBN 0071626964)

Synopsis

Now you can truly master an understanding of the phenomenon of flight. This practical guide is the most intuitive introduction to basic flight mechanics available. Understanding Flight explains the principles of aeronautics in terms, descriptions, and illustrations that make sense – without complicated mathematics. Updated to include helicopter flight fundamentals and aircraft structures, this aviation classic is required reading for new pilots, students, engineers, and anyone fascinated with flight.

Reviews

Reader's comment: As an aspiring aerospace engineer, I wanted to find out about the principles of flight as they are not covered in school. "Understanding Flight" explains the physics behind this phenomenon in a way that is really easy to understand, without being over-simplified. What I particularly liked about this book was that it didn't bother with any mathematical equations, and there were also plenty of diagrams, graphs and pictures to illustrate what was being explained.

Reader's comment: There are two main categories of people that this book will appeal to, other than general enthusiasts, Aeronautical Engineers and Pilots. The information inside the book really caters for both spectra. This book requires an AS Level understanding of physics for it to make sense, so it is accessible to most people interested in this field. It is perfect for a College student looking for a book to read up on the subject before heading to university, and I'm sure it is on the reading list for many unis so having read this will most likely impress them at an interview/in you personal statement. The book itself makes use of illustrations (both diagrams and photographs) to make more sense of the text, which is broken up nicely. This makes a very readable book. However, depending on how quickly you absorb knowledge, you may have to read this a few times to become a master on the principles of flight.

Made to Measure: New Materials for the 21st Century by Philip Ball
published by Princeton University Press, 1999. Cost: approx. £21. (ISBN 0691009759)

Synopsis

This text describes how scientists are inventing thousands of materials, ranging from synthetic skin, blood and bone, to substances that repair themselves and adapt to their environment, that swell and flex like muscles, that repel any ink and paint, and that capture and store the energy from the Sun. It shows that this is being accomplished because materials are being designed for particular applications, rather than being discovered in nature or by haphazard experimentation. Linking insights from chemistry, biology and physics, with those from engineering, the book outlines the various areas in which newly-invented materials will transform our lives in the 21st century. The chapters provide vignettes from a broad range of selected areas of materials science and can be read as separate essays. The subjects include: photonic materials; materials for information storage; smart materials; biomaterials; biomedical materials; materials for clean energy; porous materials; diamond and hard materials; polymers; and surfaces and interfaces.

Why Things Break: Understanding the World by the Way It Comes Apart by Mark E. Eberhart
published by Three Rivers Press, 2005. Cost: approx. £9. (ISBN 1400048834)

Synopsis

Did you know – It took more than an Iceberg to sink the Titanic. The Challenger disaster was predicted. Unbreakable glass dinnerware had its origin in railroad lanterns. A football team cannot lose momentum. Mercury thermometers are prohibited on airplanes for a crucial reason. Why Things Break explores the fascinating question of what holds things together (for a while), what breaks them apart, and why the answers have a direct bearing on our everyday lives. When Mark Eberhart was growing up in the 1960s, he learned that splitting an atom leads to a terrible explosion – which prompted him to worry that when he cut into a stick of butter, he would inadvertently unleash a nuclear cataclysm. Years later, as a chemistry professor, he remembered this childhood fear when he began to ponder the fact that we know more about how to split an atom than we do about how a pane of glass breaks. In Why Things Break, Eberhart leads us on a remarkable and entertaining exploration of all the cracks, clefts, fissures, and faults examined in the field of materials science and the many astonishing discoveries that have been made about everything from the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger to the crashing of your hard drive. Understanding why things break is crucial to modern life on every level, from personal safety to macroeconomics, but as Eberhart reveals here, it is also an area of cutting-edge science that is as provocative as it is illuminating.

Reviews

Reader's comment: This book was an easy to read account of the authors search for answers as to why materials break! Along the way you are enlightened to the mechanics of material science (for beginners), and learn some extremely good facts about embrittlement and the laws of thermodynamics! This book was well written and well worth the time invested in reading it.

Seven Wonders of the Industrial World by Deborah Cadbury
published by Harper Perennial, 2004. Cost: approx. £9. (ISBN 0007163053)

Synopsis

The eagerly awaited new book from Deborah Cadbury, released to coincide with her prime-time BBC 2 series. This is the story of how our modern world was forged – in rivets, grease and steam; in blood, sweat and human imagination.

Reviews

Reader's comment: The series was brilliant, and I really looked forward to reading the book – and, for once, I was not disappointed!

Ms. Cadbury should feel proud about her achievement. The book is very well written, and the information conveyed in such a relatively short space (only about 50 pages for each 'wonder') is rich, detailed and extremely interesting – and should prove interesting for everyone! She draws together tales from the labourers, from the supervisors, from the finaciers, and from the relatives of those involved with the, often, super-human projects to produce a truly fascinating book.

I don't normally go for historical books, but this is probably one of the best exeptions to that rule. All I can say is, "thank you, mum, for buying it!" I would definitely recommend this book to everyone...

Reader's comment: I can't believe there was so much I didn't know about the Industrial Revolution and its effects! If you enjoyed the super TV program then you will love this book. Here are the stories of some of the most amazing and determined men (and women...) who have shaped the very world we live in. Easy to read yet full of fascinating details of the incredible achievements – a real eye-opener. Highly recommended for anyone who likes a good story – and these are true!

The Backroom Boys: The Secret Return of the British Boffin by Francis Spufford
published by Faber & Faber Ltd., 2004. Cost: approx. £9. (ISBN 0571214975)

Reviews

Sunday Times: It provides start-to-finish enjoyment ... A must for every British Christmas stocking.

Focus: Francis Spufford is the Tom Wolfe of technology journalism ... Unreservedly marvellous.

Reader's comment: An excellent book that gave me a good feel for what it was really like to be at the cutting edge of technology over the last 50 years. Best of all was the chapter on the development of mobile phone networks by Racal – something we all now take for granted. The book would have got 5 stars except that it tends to wander a little in some of the narrative. However, this is only a minor criticism of what is a great book. Definitely one that will be re-read.

Reader's comment: At last someone has written down the stories of all the pipe-chuffing uncle-figures who were once my heroes. And what a great job Francis Spufford has done. It would be easy to caricature the quiet, understated passion of men whose ambition stretches from the suburbs to the stars. While Spufford's writing is full of funny human detail, he never takes that easy line. Instead, he overcomes the challenge of linking a list of contrasting stories to reveal a larger theme: how successive sons of a fading empire have tried to make their technological dreams come true in a changing political and economic climate. This is a celebration of the true "White Heat of a new technological revolution" – a heat that still burns in the hearts of individual scientists, inventors and professional engineers.

"Backroom Boys" starts with a chapter about the early British space programme ("Flying Spitfires to Other Planets") and ends with the "Beagle 2" mission to Mars. There's a scrotum-crawling irony about the way the latter turned out to be such a dog of a spacecraft. Somehow, when you read this book you know that Britain's been here before. Most technological dreams turn out different to our expectations. But that's not a reason to give up trying. If you still have hope that invention and technical creativity might hold some of the answers to the difficult problems we face on this planet, give this book a read.

The Existential Pleasures of Engineering by Samuel C. Florman
published by Souvenir Press Ltd., 1995. Cost: approx. £11. (ISBN 0285632876)

Synopsis

An eloquent, witty and perceptive celebration of our deepest creative impulses. Since prehistory humans have tried to change their environment – by building houses, monuments and temples, roads and enclosures. They have carved, designed and constructed; striving to build structures that were not only functional but also works of art to be admired and wondered at. Why then, asks Samuel Florman, has engineering sunk into such disfavour? Can engineers be blamed for pollution, the desecration of the landscape, a lack of taste? Samuel Florman is himself a distinguished and erudite engineer and he sets out to dispel the myth that has darkened the image of his profession, celebrating it as a vital, living force that is an essential part of human nature, rich in spiritual and sensual rewards. We are all dependent on engineers and the benefits they can provide, in opposing the fashionable 'anti-technology' stance, Florman emerges triumphantly with a creative, practical and fun philosophy of engineering that will boost his profession. Stimulating and illuminating, this book opens our eyes to the inner need to build, invent and manipulate, which only engineering can staisfy. This is essential reading for all who seek to understand their primal instincts.

Reviews

Reader's comment: This book shows the inherent connection of the science of engineering and the things engineers build with the humanity of their application. This is an incredible book and should be mandatory high school reading. If I had read this book I would have been more likely to go into engineering – and would have been confident that double majoring engineering with a liberal art which would have best served my interests. The lessons go beyond the profession of engineering. The book could be used in an ethics course for Banking, Medicine, Political Science and any other profession where power corrupts.

How Things Work – The Physics of Everyday Life by Louis A. Bloomfield
published by John Wiley & Sons, 2009. Cost: approx. £43. (ISBN 0470223995)

Synopsis

Offering an alternative to the traditional approach to teaching science appreciation, the author has written a book based on his university course. This approach to the introductory physics course for non-science students conveys an understanding and appreciation for the concepts of physics by finding them within specific objects of everyday experience. The text asks readers questions about how the world around them works. In the process of answering the questions, the author shows students the importance of fundamental concepts in physics. Every major physics concept is treated, but should arrive to the student in a real-world context. The book departs from the "physics for physicists" approach of concentrating on physics principles and trying to find applications. It offers a "guided inquiry" approach with experiments described and done by students, and a qualitative focus with "Check Your Understanding" sections.

Reviews

Reader's comment: Brilliant style and very motivating book! This fantastic book presents in a clear way the basic principles of physics using common devices as examples. The absence of maths does not compromise its accuracy and makes the text readable for all audiences. Apart from being an excellent reading on its own, it could also be used as a companion of classical physics textbooks in secondary school.

Advanced Design and Technology by Eddie Norman, Joyce Cubitt, Syd Urry and Mike Whittaker
published by the Longman Group Ltd., 2000. Cost: approx. £40. (ISBN 0582328314)

Synopsis

This edition covers advanced level syllabuses for design and technology. It has been updated to reflect recent developments in the field, including 350 recent exam assignments and extracts from student's own design portfolios.

Reviews

Reader's comment: Comprehensive and detailed guide to modern design Advanced Design and Technology approaches the very analogue subject of design in a very digital way... The objective viewpoint provides a simple "idiot's guide" to solving design problems. Although almost too rigid at times this comprehensive encyclopaedia of design equips technology students with all of the tools they require to begin their design education.