6 Must-read books for engineers

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  • January 27, 2020

For young engineers, either still in school or the early stages of their professional career, picking up a book for pleasure in the evening is typically one of the last things that come to mind. The day-in, day-out life of an engineer can be so mentally taxing than doing one more thing that keeps our minds engaged is a tough sell at the end of a long day, but it doesn’t have to be that way! Reading simply for pleasure is one of the best ways engineers can expand their horizons, allow their minds to grow in a low-pressure setting and learn new things that can help advance a burgeoning career.

A good book for an engineer should not be extremely technical and dry. We do enough heavy thinking during our workdays. Pick a book that you find interesting that offers professional lessons without bashing you over the head with them. This is a great way to learn new things on your own terms. An ideal choice offers insight into a subject slightly outside your day-to-day work as an engineer, but still in the realm of the field. For the young engineer looking for a way to unwind after a long day on the job that can provide long-term benefits, these are the six best books to consider.

1. Smart People Should Build Things

Smart People Should Build Things: How to Restore Our Culture of Achievement, Build a Path for Entrepreneurs, and Create New Jobs in America

Before he was an underdog Presidential candidate, Andrew Yang was an entrepreneur, and a good one. Yang’s first book, titled Smart People Should Build Things: How to Restore Our Culture of Achievement, Build a Path for Entrepreneurs, and Create New Jobs in America, documents Yang’s experiences building companies and working with Venture for America. In the book, he effectively lays out his vision to lift up downtrodden groups in the American workforce with a new culture of entrepreneurship.

This book is a must-read for any young engineer who feels an urge to build something of their own. In some way or another, we are all striving to build something of our own in our professional careers, be it a business, a unique niche within a company or a new product. Yang offers his own insights into the process of launching companies and calls for the smartest within our ranks to strike out on their own rather than turning to established career paths. Smart people should build things is a simple but effective message.

If Smart People Should Build Things speaks to you, Yang has also written a second book titled The War on Normal People, in which he breaks down how much artificial intelligence will impact the future of work. Every engineer’s career will eventually be impacted by artificial intelligence, whether we like it or not.

2. Steve Jobs

Former Apple CEO Steve Jobs is the most iconic American executive of the last century – or more – and this biography by legendary author Walter Isaacson is the definitive text on his life and career. Jobs was heavily involved in the writing process for his biography but granted Isaacson the type of access that few received. The result is the most complete story of Apple’s head’s legendary career.

Jobs was an impressive leader, but his journey to the top of the technology world was far from smooth. This biography tells it all – the highs and the lows – and also addresses the flaws in Jobs’ leadership and management styles, which could fairly be described as dictatorial at times. Jobs oversaw the creation of the most iconic products of the 21st Century, and engineers who aspire to work in product design or any technology related field could stand to learn a thing or two from the life of Steve Jobs.

3. The Existential Pleasures of Engineering

When the hours stuck at a desk are piling up and the looming deadlines are crushing your will to live, it can be hard to find any sort of pleasure in your engineering career. This is true to the extent of any career in a competitive field, but not every field can offer the same inherent joys that come with engineering. At its heart, engineering is a creative, constructive endeavor. It offers us the chance to envision something of our own in our mind, design it and see it through to a finished product. That should be a joyful experience!

Samuel Florman’s book The Existential Pleasures of Engineering attempts to remind us that it is fun to be an engineer. Being an engineer isn’t all about crunching numbers or staring at long lines of code. Engineers are responsible for building every product, building, bridge and computer program that makes the world keep running, and that should excite anyone who works in the field.

This book is closing in on its 50th birthday, but its message is still one that young engineers need to hear. You will, after all, work as an engineer for several decades if you’re lucky. There will be ups and downs along the way but remembering that it is a profession meant to be thoroughly enjoyed will help keep perspective when it gets difficult.

4. The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge

David McCullough is one of the greatest historians in human history, and his book The Great Bridge is one of the classics when it comes to engineering history. In The Great Bridge, McCullough tells the story of the construction of one of the most easily recognizable structures in America, the Brooklyn Bridge.

The Brooklyn Bridge should be well known to anyone working in the field of civil engineering. It was constructed in 1883 to join Manhattan and Brooklyn and is one of the oldest roadway bridges in the USA. It was the first steel-wire suspension bridge in the world and the first fixed crossing of the East River. It was and remains a true engineering marvel of the modern world.

In his book, McCullough turns his great knack for historical storytelling to allowing his readers to understand all of the behind-the-scenes dealings that allowed this great structure to be built. The construction process was extremely difficult and took 13 years to complete, with numerous controversies and huge challenges. The book is a must-read for any civil engineers who look at many of the massive structures built during the 19th Century and wonder how anyone completed such an impressive design without the aid of modern technology like calculators and AutoCAD.

5. Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice from the Best in the World

Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice from the Best in the World

Tim Ferris has become one of the leading entrepreneurial thinkers, writers and speakers in the business world today, and his works have been embraced whole-heartedly by the engineering community. Ferris has made it his life’s mission to spread a positive message of productivity to anyone willing to hear it. He believes we can all achieve more without working 80-hour weeks.

In Tribe of Mentors, Ferris interviews over 130 of the world’s best in their given field. Through his interviews and profiles, Ferris compiles an easily readable text full of tips and tricks to help us get the most out of our abilities and talents.

Here are a few of the aspects of professional life that Ferris delves into in the book:

· How to achieve work-life balance

· The best ways to deal with information overload and remain organized

· How to incorporate meditation and mindfulness into your daily routine

· 50 morning routines, tailored to both early risers and night owls

· How to find clarity and your purpose in life

Ferris is equal parts self-help guru and entrepreneurial savant, and his message is boiled down into easily digestible snippets here. Tribe of Mentors offers a window into the inner workings of some of the most important people in the world and is a great resource for young engineers looking to make their mark without becoming slaves to the job.

6. The Martian

The Martian

The first five books of this list fall into the non-fiction/self-help category, but even the most analytical, driven engineer needs a true entertainment outlet every once in a while. The Martian, by Andy Weir, tells the story of one astronaut’s struggle to survive on Mars after a failed mission and the efforts to bring him back to Earth. The story is set in the not-so-distant future of 2035, and it’s not so hard to believe humans might set foot on the Red Planet within the next 15 years.

The Martian tells the story of survival in extreme conditions of astronaut Mark Watney, the crew’s botanist who was separated during a dust storm and left behind. He survives in the harsh environment by finding a way to grow plants for food. The story is purely a work of fiction, but engineers can take plenty away from it. The main character is able to survive thanks to his ability to adapt, solve challenging problems and use his talents to make the best out of a bad situation. This is a great read for engineers who love dreaming about the possibilities of the future and want a real page-turner.

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