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Engineering is all around us. It’s impossible to imagine the modern life without all the products, constructions, tools, systems, and myriad other objects and utilities that have been developed and constructed through the all-encompassing activity that we refer to as engineering. Yet, as it’s often the case, sometimes the most ubiquitous terms and concepts are the ones that are the hardest to define properly. In “Engineering: A Very Short Introduction” David Blockley tries to answer that question, and provide the historical and cultural context for the development and evolution of the engineering techniques, materials, and practices.
Engineering is often associated closely with science, and the distinction between engineering and applied science is all but nonexistent. It is then no coincidence that the major shifts in the engineering tools and techniques have happened as the humanity has gained access and understanding of bigger and wider realms of scientific knowledge. This connection between science and engineering is also reflected in the way that this short book is organized. The main chapters of the book are dedicated to gravity, heat, electromagnetism, information, and systems. They don’t only reflect the historical development, but also the increase in complexity. I only wish there had been a chapter on bioengineering. This nascent field is bound to have significant and unimaginable impact in the upcoming years.
One of this book’s biggest strengths is its willingness to take a look at engineering from a very deep and philosophical point of view. It makes this a very challenging read, and it can also make few sections feel perhaps unduly dry. Nonetheless, the book also provides plenty of concrete examples, insights, and tidbits of knowledge. I’ve learned for the first time that the term engineering is derived from ingenuity, and not from engine. I also understood for the first time how the cellular phone networks work, as well as a few other little engineering secrets. Overall, this is a very interesting book, but if you don’t have the stomach for philosophical musings (broadly understood), you may not like it all that much.