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Engineering: A Very Short Introduction

Engineering: A Very Short Introduction

Engineering: A Very Short Introduction
By David Blockley

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Book Description

Engineering is part of almost everything we do--from the buildings we live in and the roads and railways we travel on, to the telephones and computers we use to communicate and the X-ray machines that help doctors diagnose diseases. In this Very Short Introduction, David Blockley explores the nature and practice of engineering--its history, its scope, and its relationship with art, craft, science, and technology. He begins with its early roots, ranging from Archimedes to some of the great figures of engineering such as Brunel and Marconi, right up to the modern day, describing the five ages of engineering--gravity, heat, electromagnetism, information, and systems--and showing how they relate to one another. Blockley discusses some of engineering's great achievements as well as its great disasters--such as when things went catastrophically wrong at Chernobyl--using examples of everyday tools to reveal how engineering actually works. He also looks at some of the contributions engineers will have to make in the future in order to sustain and promote human well-being.

Book Details

  • Amazon Sales Rank: #256222 in Books
  • Brand: imusti
  • Published on: 2012-03-24
  • Original language: English
  • Number of items: 1
  • Dimensions: 4.40" h x .50" w x 6.70" l, .31 pounds
  • Binding: Paperback
  • 152 pages


  • Oxford University Press

Editorial Reviews

This concise book provides excellent references for further reading and is an affordable, quick read to brush up on engineering history and its modern-day application. It is even more powerful as a tool for non-engineers to understand how intimately engineering contributes to the quality of peoples' lives - and the consequences of success or failure. * Civil Engineering Journal * Any engineer who has spent a few years out of the classroom can benefit from reading this tiny volume as a refresher course on some basic, yet key, concepts of engineering * The Tech *

About the Author

David Blockley is Head of the Department of Civil Engineering and Dean of the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Bristol.

Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful.
4A fun look at the history of engineering, but a bit superficial
By Gregory J. Casteel
I want to begin on a positive note by saying that I actually enjoyed reading this book, even though it wasn't at all what I was expecting when I ordered it. It's a pretty fun read, suitable for passing the time when you're not really in the mood for anything heavy, but still want to read something educational. It's pretty easy to read and follow, though the author does wander around quite a bit rather than sticking strictly to the subject at hand, going off on frequent tangents about philosophy, religion, and other matters that seem to have little to do with engineering. Unlike most of the other books I've read in the "Very Short Introduction" series, this book appears to have been written with younger readers in mind -- high school, or perhaps even middle school students -- explaining things in very simple terms that just about anyone should be able to understand, and not going into any of the complex technical details of the subject. The final chapter on systems engineering is a bit more abstract and philosophical than the rest, and might go over the heads of most schoolchildren; but everything else in the book is pretty simple and straightforward.

But this simplicity is also the source of my chief complaint about this book: It's far too simplistic to be of much practical use to anyone who wants to learn about engineering as a discipline. In spite of its title, this is really not so much a book about the principles of engineering as it is a book about the history of technology. It's about how technology has advanced over the centuries, and the role that engineers have played in the advancement of technology. If you're looking for a book that explains what exactly engineers do when they design and build roads, bridges, buildings, cars, airplanes, chemical plants, industrial equipment, electronic devices, computers, etc. -- how, for example, they make sure that a structure can support the loads it must bear, or that an engine can safely power a vehicle, or that an electrical device can handle a particular current without shorting out -- then I'm afraid you'll have to look elsewhere. This book just doesn't really discuss these sorts of things in any detail. When I ordered the book, I guess I was expecting that the contents would be more like those in the excellent course on civil engineering from The Teaching Company, "Understanding the World's Greatest Structures: Science and Innovation from Antiquity to Modernity", taught by West Point professor Stephen Ressler, which actually does go into some detail about how engineers design buildings and bridges, including a discussion of how force loads are balanced, the strength of various building materials in tension and in compression, and how structural elements can be reinforced so they don't buckle under stress, among other topics. Unfortunately, you'll find none of these topics discussed in any detail in this little book. That's because this isn't really a book about the sorts of things that engineers need to know in order to build things that work. Rather, it's a book about the sorts of things that engineers have accomplished throughout history. It's not a "how-to" guide for amateur engineers; and it's certainly not a quick-reference guide for engineering students or professional engineers. Rather, it seems to be aimed mainly at schoolchildren who are considering becoming engineers when they grow up, giving them a fairly broad overview of the sorts of things that engineers work on, but not really giving them much of a preview of what they'll need to learn once they go to engineering school. If you're not a middle school or high school student with dreams of becoming an engineer, you still may enjoy reading this book -- at least I did -- but you'll probably find it a bit too superficial to be of much practical use in helping you understand what it is that engineers actually do.

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful.
3Good brief history of engineering
By Truckee Bob
Well written and interesting, especially if you already have engineering knowledge. Most of the book was either engineering accomplishments from the past and how they have changed our lives, technical descriptions of past/existing engineering developments such as the electric motor, or descriptions of newer challenges facing modern engineers.

What I was hoping for was more of the engineering process that engineers use to develop solutions, i.e. what do engineers do. The end to end process used to develop a new medical device or to build a bridge are examples of what I mean. Not necessarily the right book to give a high school student who might be considering an engineering career.

22 of 25 people found the following review helpful.
4On the pillars of our craft
By Roberto Perez-Franco
[MIT's The Tech] - If you are reading The Tech, there is a good chance you have learned the basics of engineering at MIT. In which case, an invitation to read a book called Engineering: A Very Short Introduction might strike you as -- mildly put -- unnecessary. If you are the cocky type, you may even be tempted to declare, with a smile and a zinger ("Why don't you go ask the College of Cardinals to attend Sunday school?"), that this book is not for you. But you would be wrong.

Any engineer who has spent a few years out of the classroom (like yours truly) can benefit from reading this tiny volume as a refresher course on some basic, yet key, concepts of engineering: How pulleys can be used for mechanical advantage; the different stages of the Carnot cycle; how a turbo jet engine shares the same working cycles as a four-stroke piston engine; how electricity and magnetism interact to create movement in an electric motor; how silicon is used to make transistors, and these to make logic gates, and these to make flip-flops, and these to make digital arithmetic -- and computers -- possible.

Even if all these fundamental ideas from key areas within major branches of engineering are still crisp in your memory, you may still benefit from the big picture that the book offers. Blockley acknowledges six divisions of engineering activity -- civil, mechanical, electrical, chemical, computing, and medical -- yet he structures his book along the five ages into which "the story of engineering naturally divides": gravity, heat, electromagnetism, information, and systems. The classification of the material into these five ages works wonderfully as a didactic mechanism.

It is only when the author himself deviates from his proposed structure that the book seems to lose steam. In particular, Chapter two, nominally on the age of gravity, is severely weakened by an unnecessarily long journey into the history of philosophy and science that consumes one-tenth of the whole book and leaves out precious gravity-related material, while pushing other details into the next chapter. With this exception, the rest of the content adheres to the structure, to great effect.

The price of the book is more than covered by chapter six alone, on the age of systems, which deals with a subject dear to the heart of those at MIT's Engineering Systems Division: complex sociotechnical systems. This chapter on systems crowns the book and left me with a deeper understanding of why systems thinking is, or should be, the new way of doing engineering -- not only because the fruits of our previous engineering efforts have grown to a level of complexity such that they have started to exhibit unexpected behaviors, but because the stakes are now higher than ever. After discussing risk in systems like nuclear plants and the power grid, Blockley goes to the heart of the matter: The defining test is climate change, where such high stakes affect our very future. "Engineers have to deliver sustainable systems," he advises, "making systems durable, repairable, adaptable, robust and resilient." As one who works within this field, all I can say is "Amen, brother! Amen."

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