We’re all spending more time confined to our houses at the moment, which makes diving into a good book a welcome escape.
If you’re after something new to sink your teeth into, take a look at these top picks for engineers.
Exactly: How precision engineers created the modern world by Simon Winchester
Throughout history, a single factor — precision — has been universally critical to driving advancement. So argues Winchester as he traces the development of technology from the Industrial Age through the Digital Age.
This is an interesting and detailed look at the history behind innovations in precision and how they have built on each other to create the developments we enjoy today: from standardised measurements established in the 18th century, to machine tools that paved the way for mass production of parts, and eventually cutting-edge technologies like gene editing, microchips and the Hadron Collider.
Throughout the book, Winchester also raises important questions about what a world in pursuit of precision means for other facets of human life.
Invisible Women: Exposing data bias in a world designed for men by Caroline Criado Perez
Imagine a world where your phone is too big for your hand, your doctor prescribes a drug that is wrong for your body, and in a car accident you are 47 per cent more likely to be injured. If any of that sounds familiar, chances are you’re a woman.
Through case studies, stories and global research, Perez uses data to reveal the hidden ways in which inequality exists, often with disastrous consequences.
This plays out in sectors as diverse as government, healthcare, technology, media and more. Some are fairly innocuous, such as smartphones’ ‘one-size-fits-men’ approach, making phones too big for the average woman’s hand. Others have more serious consequences, like safety standards in cars not taking into account differences between men and women, making women more likely to be seriously hurt in a crash, despite being less likely to crash.
As data increasingly shapes the world around us, learning more about how bias can influence design in such profound ways is a convincing argument for more diversity in the engineering profession.
Make, Think, Imagine: Engineering the future of civilisation by John Browne
The pace of change today is unprecedented, which leaves many people wondering about the effects of automation, ageing populations, the climate crisis and rapid urbanisation on our world. However, Browne argues that we shouldn’t let these concerns paralyse us into inaction.
Drawing on history, his own experiences and insights from leading innovators, Browne establishes engineering innovation as the foundation for progress, and argues that the same spark that drives each advancement can also be used to counter potential negative effects.
The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman
Ever felt silly when you can’t figure out how to work the shower in your hotel room? Or which light switch turns on which light? Or whether you need to push or pull certain types of doors? Turns out, it’s not nothing wrong with you.
Penned by a cognitive scientist and usability engineer, this book explores what happens when product design ignores the needs and behaviours of users. This book is a good primer on how and why some objects satisfy customers while others fail or frustrate, as well as some simple rules for the foundation of good design.
BONUS: Set Phasers on Stun: And other true tales of design, technology and human error by Steven M Casey
In a similar vein as The Design of Everyday Things, this book makes the case that a large share of technological disasters are actually caused by incompatibilities between the way things are designed and the way people actually perceive, think and act. This book compiles 20 real-world examples of why attributing things to ‘human error’ might not always be right.
Radio Girl: The story of the extraordinary Mrs Mac, pioneering engineer and wartime legend by David Dufty
The year is 1944, the setting an old woolshed at Sydney Harbour. But rather than sheep and shearers, the building is filled with the thrum of men and women in uniforms and headsets tapping away at small machines. Presiding over this group is one of Australia’s unsung wartime legends: Violet McKenzie, aka Mrs Mac, an electrical engineer and businesswoman.
While she might not be well known today, during the pre- and post-World War II years her contributions to radio technology and wartime communications earned her high praise and fame from the defence forces and the public.
To Engineer Is Human: The role of failure in successful design by Henry Petroski
How did a simple design error cause one of the great disasters of the 1980s — the collapse of the walkways at the Kansas City Hyatt Regency Hotel? What made the graceful and innovative Tacoma Narrows Bridge twist apart in a mild wind in 1940? How did an oversized waterlily inspire the magnificent Crystal Palace, the crowning achievement of Victorian architecture and engineering?
In this work, Petroski explores how mistakes and failures — rather than being hidden away — can serve as learning experiences for members of the profession.
How Innovation Works: And Why it Flourishes in Freedom by Matt Ridley
Does innovation come from a single genius, or is it the result of teamwork? Does it happen in a flash, or require years of experience? And what exactly is innovation in the first place?
In this book, Ridley chronicles the history of innovation, from the early days of cars and computing to the development of vaccines — and the factors that shaped these breakthroughs.
He argues we need to change the way we think about innovation, to see it as an incremental, fortuitous process that happens as a result of human exchange, rather than an orderly, top-down process that develops according to a plan.
Is there a book you think should be on this list? Or a great podcast, TV show or movie you’d recommend to fellow engineers? Leave a comment below or send us an email with your top picks.