601: An Engineer’s Alphabet by Henry Petroski

by Gerard


601: Petroski, Henry. An Engineer’s Alphabet: Gleanings from the Softer Side of a Profession. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011. 343 pp. ISBN 978-0-107-01506-7.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 600: Technology
  • 601: Philosophy and theory of technology

Henry Petroski’s Engineer’s Alphabet is a book only an engineer could love. He basically runs through the entire field, culling together an alphabetic list of terms, phrases, and lists that embody the field. In it, you get an interesting idea of the world that engineers inhabit. From asphalt cookies to engineer fight songs to the patent system to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and everything in between, there’s a whole panoply of fun and interesting entries covering the entire history of engineering. Here are few of my favorites:

  • Two U.S. Presidents have associated with engineering: Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter.
  • Glenn L. Martin Hall, one of the engineering buildings at the University of Maryland, was built to look like a slide rule when viewed from above.
  • Murphy’s Law was the rule of thumb of Captain Ed Murphy, an aircraft engineer.
  • Isambard Kingdom Brunel, a British engineer responsible for the Great Western Railway as well as the ship instrumental in laying the first transatlantic cable, ranked above Princess Diana and William Shakespeare in a 2002 poll to list the greatest Britons in history.

This one isn’t a quick book, but it did have its fair share of witty asides and intriguing tidbits. If you have a friend or relative who’s in the field, this one would make a fine addition their library.