8 Worthwhile Reads for Aspiring Engineers

The Engineer's Perspective
The Engineer's Perspective

Table of Contents

Engineering books for kids

Experience may be the best way to learn a lesson, but non-fiction books record, preserve and pass down the accumulated knowledge that goes beyond the technical concepts learned from textbooks. Not only do we learn from mistakes and failures of the past, but more importantly, appreciate the work invested in each breakthrough. 

These top picks would also make great gifts for your fellow engineers!

Key Takeaways

In this article, you’ll find a compiled list of books to read that will help aspiring engineers develop their engineering mindset. These books are the most frequently recommended on various engineering websites, as well as comparing the publications and sales from various channels. 

The Engineer's Perspective

Goodreads & LibraryThing

Goodreads is the leading community for online book reviews, with a vast network of readers and a great collection of books categorized per topics of interest. The site also features an annual Goodreads’s Choice Awards which features the year’s new releases and can be a great resource if you are looking for new titles to read. LibraryThing is also a social cataloging site for storing and sharing book catalogs and contains masses of information such as a book’s rating (popularity among readers), reviews, notes from various authors, and more.

Our Top 8 Reads

1. The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman

Originally published in 1988 as The Psychology of Everyday Things, this Revised and Expanded edition shows that design usability (“user-centered”) and affordance are just as important as aesthetics. Highlights of this book are the Seven Stages of Action which provides the readers a systematic and insightful guide on how to design and build objects in the “best” way.

2. Structures: Or Why Things Fall Down by J.E. Gordon

If you are looking for an informal yet informative take on structures, stress, torsion, and similar concepts that affect a structure’s stability, this book showcases a clear and cogent discussion on the technology and mechanics involved in construction — from everyday tools to amazing engineering marvels.

The Engineer's Perspective

Elon Musk

This is one book that influenced Elon Musk when he started SpaceX, learning the basics of rocket science and structural engineering. In an interview with KCRW, Musk said this about the book: “It is really, really good if you want a primer in structural design.”

3. To Engineer is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design by Henry Petroski

From simple everyday objects to large and complex design failures, Henry Petroski presents and explores the reasons behind design and structure failure. By exposing engineering failures, Petroski presents that failure is always a part of the learning opportunity and progress, not just in engineering but in life in general as well.

4. Engineer to Win by Caroll Smith

Though focused on mechanical analysis of materials, fatigue, and failure involving racing car technology, the book offers a great mechanical engineering reference, especially for those involved in fabrication for racing. The book also tackles aerodynamics, breaks, heat treatments, tools, and more.

The Engineer's Perspective

“There is no such thing as material failure - all failures are human in origin.” Caroll Smith, Engineer to Win (Chapter 1)

Materials and parts failure are seldom caused by the materials themselves, but by the engineer’s shortcomings to foresee the failure. Identifying the causes of failure, whether it be from the material itself, construction, fabrication, and installation, or human negligence and errors, should be a skill that every engineer should develop.

5. The Existential Pleasures of Engineering by Samuel Florman

Samuel Florman explores how engineers view and feel about the engineering profession. Contrary to the typical belief that engineering is technical, cold, and passionless, the author presents a new perspective that will give the readers a practical and creative take on the engineering profession.

6. Elon Musk - Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance

A refreshing insight into the life of Elon Musk, the book is a biography gathered from Vance’s interviews with Musk and people close to him. Expect to learn more about Musk’s childhood from the time he spent at PayPal and Zip2 up to Tesla, SpaceX, and SolarCity.

7. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

In this timeless self-help book, the readers will find tested and proven approaches on how to “win and convince” people to “join their way of thinking” and to subtly but surely change the reader’s perspective on communication and people dynamics. The book is useful for engineers working on a team, managing a project, or revitalizing an organization to achieve goals.

8. The Art of Doing Science and Engineering: Learning to Learn by Richard Hamming

Thought process and problem-solving skills are key characteristics that an engineer needs to hone and develop. Actual experiences of people who achieved huge successes and spectacular feats are analyzed and presented in this book to provoke and develop a thinking pattern that will help the reader function as a problem solver and achieve successful results.

Final Thoughts

Though engineering fields have made huge progress with the development of machines and artificial intelligence, it is the engineer’s human component and infinite creative potential that’s irreplaceable by any technological advancements. 

Advances in civilization are parallel with the evolution of engineering and technology — from simple basic innovations, we use in our daily lives to the more bizarre and ambitious ventures towards space exploration. 


Which publication is best for engineering?

Wiley (John Wiley & Sons, Inc.), McGraw Hill Education, Elsevier, Allen and Unwin, and Nelson Education are leading publication houses that publish primarily academic, non-fiction, and professional works suitable for engineering and scientific fields. 

Other reputable University Publishing arms such as Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press, Purdue University Press, and the like, publish books and magazines that are read by academic professionals, students, and general readers.

What are the engineering fundamentals?

People who would like to pursue engineering must have an innate eagerness for solving mathematical problems with critical thinking skills. 

There are different types of engineering fields. For chemical engineering, for instance, the underlying fundamentals are chemistry, physics, and biology. Chemical engineers are most adept with thermodynamics, transport phenomena, physical chemistry, and chemical reaction engineering.

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