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  • 1.  Do engineers read fiction?

    Posted 07-11-2019 04:42 PM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 07-11-2019 04:41 PM
    Now that we know that engineers do sketch, draw and paint, I was wondering if and what do we read.
    I was asked to share this resource for Top 5 ASCE Summer Beach Reads.

    More generally, do you have time to read beyond professional literature? Is it mostly fiction or nonfiction?  Feel free to share your favorite reads here, engineering-related and otherwise. 


    Natalya Sokolovskaya P.E.,M.ASCE
    Wynnewood PA

  • 2.  RE: Do engineers read fiction?

    Posted 07-12-2019 07:10 AM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 07-12-2019 07:09 AM
    I really struggle with fiction. The fact that it's entirely made up is a big turn away for me. Outside of professional literature, I read for fun quite a lot but it tends to be all nonfiction: historical, biographical, or engineering/technologically oriented.

    Some of my favorite reads over the last few years that really got me thinking have been:

    • Race Against The Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee
    • The Technological Society by Jacques Ellul
    • Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered by E.F. Schumacher

    I also get a lot from scholarly articles on engineering management. The ASCE Journal of Management in Engineering.

    Right now I'm in the process of reading a historical book on Gettysburg and a biographical book on Christoper Wren.

    Jesse Kamm PhD, PMP, A.M.ASCE
    Senior Vice President of Construction Management

  • 3.  RE: Do engineers read fiction?

    Posted 07-14-2019 09:30 AM
    I'm a history buff.  Mostly read narrative history. Just finished David McCullough's new book, Pioneers. Great read. As for fiction I once binge-read Ed McBain's 87th Precinct crime series and also enjoyed Girl With The Dragon Tattoo trilogy.

    Bevin Beaudet P.E.,M.ASCE
    Bevin A. Beaudet, P.E., LLC.
    West Palm Beach FL

  • 4.  RE: Do engineers read fiction?

    Posted 07-15-2019 01:28 PM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 07-15-2019 01:27 PM
    I read both fiction and non-fiction. Sometimes a good mystery can have a calming effect, while other novels can be appreciated for their good writing and sometimes taking on bigger issues.

    For non-fiction, I read mostly ancient history- with a special interest in Mesopotamia. A portion of this material involves the building of things- palaces, temples, water supply structures, roads, fortifications, etc.- just the right stuff for Civil Engineers. A visit to some of the ancient sites in Europe, the Near East, and Latin America can be inspirational, admirable, and educational.

    James Worrell
    Mostly Retired
    PE, RLS (retired)
    Raleigh NC

  • 5.  RE: Do engineers read fiction?

    Posted 07-15-2019 03:00 PM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 07-15-2019 02:59 PM
    Reading fiction is my go-to method of relaxation (other than exercise). I also read non-fiction (specifically self-help and leadership). It's rare that I'm not reading at least one fiction and one non-fiction simultaneously.

    Readers of this thread may also find this Inc. article interesting: "9 Ways Reading Fiction Will Make You Happier and More Successful". I feel like the 9 ways can also apply to non-fiction, depending on what you are reading.

    Here's a couple of my current favorites:

    The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results By Jay Papasan and Gary Keller
    Dare to Lead by Brene Brown (I'd consider this a must-read for any engineer who wants to be in management/leadership).
    Girl, Wash Your Face and Girl, Stop Apologizing, both by Rachel Hollis (Ladies, if you've never heard of Rachel Hollis, do yourself a favor and get one of these books, audio is great too)
    High Performance Habits: How Extraordinary People Become That Way by Brendon Burchard

    I'm a Game of Thrones junky, so I've read all of those books, and in my opinion, they are much better than the TV series (except for the fact that the series is done, yet the last book has yet to be released. The 4th and 5th books, in particular, are a bit slow for me, but I enjoyed them anyways.
    I'm a big romance novel reader too. All-time favorite series is Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series.
    I enjoy the occasional sci-fi novel too.

    One of the things I also love about fiction is that it drives home the power of a good story. A good story resonates and is remembered by our brains much more than a statistic. And, a lot of fiction includes a good bit of thought on social commentary (try sci-fi, for example). Being able to tell a good story is a useful skill for any engineer to be able to get his or her point across.

    Stephanie Slocum P.E.,M.ASCE
    Engineers Rising LLC

  • 6.  RE: Do engineers read fiction?

    Posted 07-16-2019 10:01 AM
    I read the gamut of fiction and non-fiction. I especially like authors that can do both. China Mieville is probably better known for his amazing fiction novels like The City & The City but his more recent history of the Russian Revolution was a very detailed look at the days leading up to October 1917. Orhan Pamuk is a world renowned author of both fiction and non-fiction centered in his native Turkey. Novelist David Mitchell has a great collection of fiction that I need to catch up with. I've read three of his books but there are more that are on my wish list. I like to catch up with many classics but tend to favor speculative fiction. Good classic authors like Hemingway, Graham Greene, Pushkin, Solzhenitsyn, Huxley, Asimov, Orwell, Steinbeck, Joseph Conrad, Gabriel García Márquez, Melville, etc have filled my reading list over the last ten years. And there are tons of well-known contemporary authors like Haruki Murakami, Jonathan Franzen, Cormac McCarthy, Stieg Larsson, and Chuck Palahniuk that I've read.

    My favorites from non-fiction are usually historical like the Devil in the White City, histories of the Byzantine Empire, or local history.

    Yance Marti P.E.,M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer IV
    City of Milwaukee
    Milwaukee WI

  • 7.  RE: Do engineers read fiction?

    Posted 07-16-2019 10:55 AM

    I really enjoy reading self-help, religious, and fiction books. I typically do about 30 minute reading in the morning as part of my routine and 30 to 1 hr of reading at night when possible. Right now I am reading Think and Grow Rich by Ben Holden-Crowther and Napoleon Hill and it has quickly become one of my favorite books. There is a lot of thought-provoking ideas that have been helpful to improve my career. I am also currently listening to She Engineers by @Stephanie Slocum​ and it has been a great book as well. I have been mainly been listening to it on my commute to work. It is mainly for women engineers but I think every male engineer should read it, there is a lot of great information that is really relatable and very actionable as well. I have incorporated many of her tips into my career. 

    Other book recommendations:
    The School of Greatness by Lewis Howes
    The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey
    The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod
    The Miracle Equation by Hal Elrod
    The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier

    All great books that I have enjoyed reading or are on my radar to read soon!

    Luis Duque EIT,A.M.ASCE
    Structural Engineer
    Broomfield CO

  • 8.  RE: Do engineers read fiction?

    Posted 07-17-2019 02:19 PM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 07-17-2019 02:18 PM
    I started reading a lot more the past two years. I felt like I was missing out on a lot of good conversations. I started with a book called "How to Read Literature Like a Professor" by Thomas C Foster. It's a pretty good introduction to analysis techniques and presents strategies for comparing anything you read to various classics from Greek to religious to current events. In terms of fiction that I read in the last year, my list includes:

    Supermarket by Bobby Hall (a.k.a. Logic, a rapper) - It's a cool psycho drama that keeps you on your feet wondering if things are really happening or if they're just in the main character's head - kind of like that movie Memento.

    On the Come Up by Angie Thomas - This is really good for 90% of the book, but I was a little unimpressed with the neat tie-up in the end of the story. Great discussions though on race and social justice issues in the US.

    The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov - This is a classic text written during the Stalinist Russia period. It is basically a Faustian novel set in Moscow in the 1960's but it gets really trippy and has a bunch of psychedelic-type of situations created by this devil character and includes some interesting revisionist ideas on the death sequence of Jesus with some implications that the anti-C was involved in the discussions with Pontious. ... I was lead to this one from a discussion I heard on NPR about the origins of the Rolling Stones song "Sympathy for the Devil." 

    The Circle by Dave Eggers - This is an interesting drama that circles around privacy issues related to tech giants taking over society. Tom Hanks made a movie based on this book, but it didn't do the book any justice.

    Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Phillip K. Dick - This is a classic sci-fi thriller that lead to the creation of the Blade Runner movies. It has a catchy title and some really interesting topics that were ahead of it's time.

    Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut - Not exactly what Cat Steven's was singing about. This is an odd and quirky sci-fi book about a mad genius inventor that is asked by the military to design a substance to help our troops travel over mud. He develops this substance called Ice Nine that causes water to instantly freeze up when released - the only problem is there is no way to stop the chemical reaction once it's started and eventually leads to a catastrophic ending after a long and tortuous journey for someone who is just trying to write a piece about the inventor after his passing. It's funny there's also an indie song out - well maybe it came out half a year or more ago but it's based on this book and called Ice Nine. 

    Song of Soloman - by Toni Morrison. I can't say enough about how layered and amazing this novel is. Probably my favorite so far. It discusses social injustice, slavery, the need for hope and the search for serenity.

    Another BS Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn. A novel that was written by a poet. It's not just a catchy title. This book is a difficult read because it discusses the author's struggle living with an alcoholic dad and coming to terms with his parents' separation, later his mom's suicide, and then meeting and continuously kicking his dad out of the homeless shelter that he works at because his dad is still strung out. This book is no joke and lays it all out there.

    Invisible Man by Ellison. A classic that discusses the evils of racism in America in the early 30's. I struggled to get through a third of it and still need to pick it back up to finish. But I wasn't ready for the horrific and true depiction of blatant bigotry from our not too distant past.

    In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. Probably the most eloquent novel I've read. Capote pulled together the tragic events that lead to the killing of an entire family in the middle of Kansas. The motivations of the killers and a search for meaning in why people could do such horrors. It's an amazing view into the minds of those that committed the crime and those that chased and eventually caught them and then describes the various reasons for and against capital punishment. It's a riveting story and an amazing gathering of thoughts on the subject. 

    It's starting to sound like I don't read enough fun novels.

    Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. This is a great book for people who grew up in the 80's, like me. The Spielberg movie was ok, but re-wrote a lot of things and didn't have nearly the same impact as the book. My recommendation is to skip the movie on this one.

    Now back to the interesting drama... 

    This is how You Lose Her by Junot Dias. I learned so much about Dominican culture from this book. The good and the not so great. It's a coming of age story but revolves around sexism and misogyny related to "machismo" that dominates Latino culture. 

    The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. This is a love story of two gay men in the rural South in the day when they could not exist. Therefore Carson cleverly disguised these two as deaf-mutes. This is an amazingly beautiful story and superbly written from the vantage of a wily small-town girl with an amazing insight for truth.

    Diary of an Oxygen Thief by "Anonymous". This is a story about a guy trying to figure out how to hold on to a relationship as he continues to struggle with issues from childhood that seem to prohibit him from having any means of stability in his life. He travels back and forth from England to the US and cannot seem to hold things together. The central theme though is "hurt people hurt people."

    1984 by George Orwell. A fantastic thriller that discusses what will happen if we allow fascists to rule the world and deny people the right to privacy. Oddly relevant in today's political climate.

    Extravagaria by Pablo Naruda. This is a great book of poems by the Chilean master.

    Opened Ground by Seamus Heany. This is another amazing book of poems.

    Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett. A short play that centers on the theme of existentialism.

    I'm currently in between the following books:
    The Best American Short Stories of 2016 and 2018
    The Collected Schizophrenias: Essays by Esme Weijun Wang. This is a really interesting book. It's written by a highly intelligent high functioning person that suffers from a mental disorder known as Schizoaffective disorder, which is kind of a cross between what you think of as paranoid schizophrenia and more widely understood (though not really) bi-polar disorder. She tells of having been kicked out of Yale because of her illness even though she was functioning and great when she could focus on the classes. Apparently, this is common practice at many schools and learning of this issue was really difficult to take.

    Notes from a Black Woman's Diary: Selected Works from Kathleen Collins. Kathleen was one of the first African Americans to lead successful writing and production careers in Hollywood.
    The Road by Cormac McCarthy. A story about a boy and his father who survived the apocalypse and struggle to survive in a physical and mental wasteland.

    I'm also working on developing a novel of my own, but that will take some time to pull together. I wasn't trained to develop a fictional writing voice and it's a real process.

    Hope this helps and feel free to reach out if you're interested in any of the above titles.


    Cory Jones, PE, ENV SP
    CValdo Corporation
    2255 Avenida de la Playa, Suite 5
    La Jolla, CA 92037

    James Jones P.E.,ENV SP,M.ASCE
    Project Manager
    C Valdo Corporation
    San Diego CA

  • 9.  RE: Do engineers read fiction?

    Posted 08-04-2019 07:31 PM
    Thanks for this post, I've enjoyed all of the responses.

    I try to read or listen to at least 2 books each month that are outside of civil/structural engineering, one that is nonfiction and one that is fiction.  Many of my book choices come from podcasts that I listen to where the author is featured (especially NPR's Fresh Air), and from the NY Times and WSJ weekly book reviews.

    A few of my favorite recent reads:

    "Moonshot" by Douglas Brinkley - a great biography of JFK through the lens of the space program and development of rocket technology.  If you are interested in twentieth century history, Brinkley brings many new insights and findings from his exhaustive research, including the early scientific development of rockets during World War II, the politics of the space program, and JFK's uncanny ability to inspire a whole generation to go on this epic journey.

    "21 Lessons for the 21st Century" by Yuval Harari - a fascinating exploration of contemporary issues in politics, science, sociology, and human behavior through the eyes of a medieval historian.  Harari tells it like he sees it - no holds barred.  I've read all of his books (this is the latest - you might want to start with "Sapiens" or "Homo Deus" if you haven't read them yet, for context).  While I don't always agree with his hypotheses, he always makes me think deeply about the social and historical consequences of our work as engineers.  

    "The Deep Learning Revolution" by Terence Sejnowski - This book is a brief history of deep learning and AI research by a leading scientist in the field.  It was not what I expected - Sejnowski is actually a Physics PhD who changed fields to become a neuroscience researcher, and over the last few decades has been at the forefront of understanding how the human brain works.  This book explains many of the parallels between computational neural networks and what we now know about basic functions like human vision (hint:  your retina, neurons, and prefrontal cortex comprise a very sophisticated computer algorithm).

    "The Overstory" by Richard Powers - winner of this year's Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, this novel follows several seemingly unrelated storylines that ingeniously converge (no spoilers here!).  It's a fantastic meditation on our relationship to the environment and each other.  I'll never look at trees the same way again.

    Thanks to others who posted here for the summer reading tips - I hope some of you enjoy a few of these too!


    David J. Odeh, SE, PE, F.SEI, F.ASCE, SECB
    President, Structural Engineering Institute of ASCE

  • 10.  RE: Do engineers read fiction?

    Posted 08-05-2019 10:11 AM
    Hey Natalya,

    In college, I was really into American classical literature (mostly Faulkner), but now I'm mostly into self-help books (mostly on topics of emotional intelligence as a bed time read). I frequently skim through engineering magazines to find interesting projects and practices to stay fresh on what's out there but, other than those two topics, I barely have time for reading. My wife and I have an engineer friend who is an avid reader of all kinds of fiction so, there are those types out there!

    Very interesting topic. Thanks for sharing.

    Dave Ureña, P.E.
    Banneker, LLC
    3104 N. Armenia Ave
    Suite 2
    Tampa, FL 33607