It turns out that some of the best books for engineers aren’t engineering textbooks! From memoirs to historical dramas and flights of science fiction fantasy, we’ve compiled our favorite books for engineers, nerds, and literature fans into a top 13 list. Jump in and discover your new favorite book.
1. The Martian – Andy Weir
Nominated as one of America’s best-loved novels by PBS’s The Great American Read, Andy’s Weir’s novel is the story of fictional astronaut Mark Watney. After a dust storm on Mars nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next.
2. What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions – Randall Munroe
In the New York Times best-selling book from the creator of the wildly popular webcomic xkcd, Randall Munroe gives hilarious and informative answers to important questions you probably never thought to ask. In pursuit of these answers, Munroe ran computer simulations, pored over stacks of declassified military research memos, solved differential equations, and consulted with nuclear reactor operators. His responses are masterpieces of clarity and hilarity, complemented by signature xkcd comics.
3. The Design of Everyday Things – Don Norman
Don Norman’s book shows that good, usable design is possible. The rules are simple: make things visible, exploit natural relationships that couple function and control, and make intelligent use of constraints. The goal: guide the user effortlessly to the right action on the right control at the right time. The Design of Everyday Things is a powerful primer on how — and why — some products satisfy customers while others only frustrate them.
4. The Alchemy of Air – Thomas Hager
At the dawn of the twentieth century, humanity was facing global disaster: Mass starvation was about to become a reality. A call went out to the world’ s scientists to find a solution. This is the story of the two men who found it: Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch. Thomas Hager presents a sweeping history of tragic genius, cutting-edge science, and the Haber-Bosch discovery that changed billions of lives—including your own.
5. Dune – Frank Herbert
Frank Herbert’s classic masterpiece is regarded as a triumph of the imagination and one of the bestselling science fiction novels of all time. Set on the desert planet Arrakis, Dune is the story of the boy Paul Atreides, heir to a noble family tasked with ruling an inhospitable world where the only thing of value is the “spice” melange, a drug capable of extending life and enhancing consciousness. Coveted across the known universe, melange is a prize worth killing for….
6. STRUCTURES: OR WHY THINGS DON’T FALL DOWN – J.E. Gordon
For anyone who has ever wondered why suspension bridges don’t collapse under eight lanes of traffic, how dams hold back-or give way under-thousands of gallons of water, or what principles guide the design of a skyscraper or a kangaroo, this book will ease your anxiety and answer your questions. J. E. Gordon strips engineering of its confusing technical terms, communicating its founding principles in accessible, witty prose.
7. An Astronaut’s Guide To Life On Earth: What Going To Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, And Being Prepared For Anything – Chris Hadfield
In An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, Col. Hadfield takes readers deep into his years of training and space exploration to show how to make the impossible possible. Through eye-opening, entertaining stories filled with the adrenaline of launch, the mesmerizing wonder of spacewalks, and the measured, calm responses mandated by crises, he explains how conventional wisdom can get in the way of achievement — and happiness. His own extraordinary education in space has taught him some counterintuitive lessons: don’t visualize success, do care what others think, and always sweat the small stuff.
8. Set Phasers On Stun: And Other True Tales Of Design, Technology, And Human Error – S.M. Casey
A collection of gripping and often alarming true stories meticulously documented and skillfully told about design-induced human errors, Set Phasers to Stun by Steven Casey should be required reading for all engineers and designers, and everyone else concerned about the ways our modern technological creations can affect our everyday lives.
9. Skunk Works: A Personal Memoir of My Years at Lockheed – Ben Rich
From the development of the U-2 to the Stealth fighter, Skunk Works is the true story of America’s most secret and successful aerospace operation. As recounted by Ben Rich, the operation’s brilliant boss for nearly two decades, the chronicle of Lockheed’s legendary Skunk Works is a drama of Cold War confrontations and Gulf War air combat, of extraordinary feats of engineering and human achievement against fantastic odds. Here are up-close portraits of the maverick band of scientists and engineers who made the Skunk Works so renowned.
10. The Sound of Thunder – Ray Bradbury
With his disarmingly simple style and complex imagination, Ray Bradbury has seized the minds of American readers for decades.This collection showcases thirty-two of Bradbury’s most famous tales in which he lays bare the depths of the human soul. The thrilling title story, A Sound of Thunder, tells of a hunter sent on safari — sixty million years in the past.
11. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
Douglas Adams’s mega-selling pop-culture classic sends logic into orbit, plays havoc with both time and physics, offers up pithy commentary on such things as ballpoint pens, potted plants, and digital watches . . . and, most important, reveals the ultimate answer to life, the universe, and everything.
12. The Existential Pleasures of Engineering – Samuel C. Florman
A deeply insightful and refreshingly unique text, this book corrects the myth that engineering is cold and passionless. Indeed, Florman celebrates engineering not only crucial and fundamental but also vital and alive; he views it as a response to some of our deepest impulses, an endeavor rich in spiritual and sensual rewards. Opposing the “anti-technology” stance, Florman gives readers a practical, creative, and even amusing philosophy of engineering that boasts of pride in his craft.
13. I, Robot – Isaac Asimov
I, Robot, the first and most widely read book in Asimov’s Robot series, forever changed the world’s perception of artificial intelligence. Here are stories of robots gone mad, of mind-reading robots, and robots with a sense of humor. Of robot politicians, and robots who secretly run the world—all told with the dramatic blend of science fact and science fiction that has become Asimov’s trademark.