When considering five great books for engineers, professionals should think about a wide range of topics. Of course, technical instruction is central to the scientific mission of the craft. However, other spheres of knowledge should inform engineers, as well. The intellectual process of trial and error, for instance. The role of the engineer in the broader culture is another area that is well worth exploring. All in all, a holistic approach to professional reading both motivates and educates designers and builders.

1. To Engineer is Human

Henry Petroski is a civil engineering professor at Duke University. The author of several books, he highlights some of history’s engineering heights and depths in To Engineer is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design. Published in 1992, this volume asserts that design flaws, and their disastrous consequences, can not be avoided, and sometimes serve as springboards to progress. The book is replete with case studies ranging from the ill-fated Tacoma Narrows Bridge to London’s awesome 19th-century cast-iron, glass-plated Crystal Palace. Petroski’s message that building great structures is not an exact science may give some comfort to newly minted engineers who live in fear of their first mistake.

2. The Unwritten Laws of Engineering

In 1944, W.J King published The Unwritten Laws of Engineering, a tome asserting certain realities of the profession that go untaught in many university engineering programs. Why? These are rules that cover work ethic, human relationships and attitudes toward employers. At the same time, King contends, they are particular to the engineering context. No profession attracts so many introverts yet rewards only the more outspoken. Updated since its original release, this one of five great books for engineers guides young engineers through the dense jungles of office politics and professional associations.

3. The Existential Pleasures of Engineering

Five great books for engineers should include The Existential Pleasures of Engineering by Samuel C. Florman. This work is a passionate defense of the profession as an intellectual and spiritual outlet like none other. Contrasting the precision and orderliness of engineering with the less attainable and more nebulous disciplines of eastern meditation and emotional exploration, Florman argues that trying to transcend the material world is more frustrating than embracing its complexity and “getting lost in the machine.”

4. Roark’s Formulas for Stress and Strain

An all-around excellent technical reference book is essential to be counted among five great books for engineers. Roark’s Formula’s for Stress and Strain fits this need very well. As structural properties are diagramed and equations are calculated relative to stress, engineers have quick access to the formulations by means of easy to use tabs, according to Access Engineering. Recently added chapters focus on fatigue and fracture; the nature of composite materials; and fastener/joint strains. Tables and formulas are conveniently placed at the end of each chapter. This is information required almost daily by working engineers.

5. Engineering Fundamentals

Now in its fourth edition, Engineering Fundamentals: An Introduction to Engineering by Saeed Moaveni is a standard textbook for first-year engineering students. What makes it one of the five great books for engineers is its solid, basic presentation of engineering principles that are always necessary for review and re-familiarization. The book is a comprehensive volume containing all the scientific rules undergirding engineering and it also explores issues of ethics, information exchange and problem-solving.

Related Resource: 5 Great Engineering Concentrations

Engineering is an applied discipline rich in theoretical knowledge. Without regular reading, the practice of this learned craft suffers. Reading should begin with these five great books for engineers.