2019's 10 best books for engineers and technologists

Engineers will find something of interest in these selections, from Heaviside and Silicon Valley, to sustainable manufacturing, organs-on-a-chip, and more.
  • Don’t know what to get the engineer in your life? Here’s a mix of easily understood, yet engaging, books combined with a few hardcore technical works. All of these books were published in 2019, except for two that still remain worthy of note today.

  • The Forgotten Genius of Oliver Heaviside: A Maverick of Electrical Science

    By: Basil Mahon

    Publisher: Prometheus

    With the release of the film The Current War, it’s easy to forget the contributions of Oliver Heaviside. While The "current war" focused on the competition between Edison, Westinghouse, and Tesla to bring electricity to all of America, Heaviside (a contemporary of Edison and Westinghouse) was focused on electrical engineering technology to help bring mass communication to the country.

    Heaviside gave us the unit step function (remember calculus class?), coaxial cable, and the small coils placed in series with every telephone line to improve the signal by providing inductive loading.

    From the publisher:

    “This biography of Oliver Heaviside profiles the life of an underappreciated genius and describes his many contributions to electrical science, which proved to be essential to the future of mass communications. Oliver Heaviside (1850 -1925) may not be a household name, but he was one of the great pioneers of electrical science: His work led to huge advances in communications and became the bedrock of the subject of electrical engineering as it is taught and practiced today. His achievements include creating the mathematical tools that were to prove essential to the proper understanding and use of electricity, finding a way to rid telephone lines of the distortion that had stifled progress, and showing that electrical power doesn't flow in a wire but in the space alongside it.

    At first his ideas were thought to be weird, even outrageous, and he had to battle long and hard to get them accepted. Yet by the end of his life he was awarded the first Faraday Medal. This story will restore long-overdue recognition to a scientist whose achievements in many ways were as crucial to our modern age as those of Edison's and Tesla's.”

  • Make, Think, Imagine: Engineering the Future of Civilization

    By: John Browne

    Publisher: Pegasus Books

    From the publisher:

    “Today's unprecedented pace of change leaves many people wondering what new technologies are doing to our lives. Has social media robbed us of our privacy and fed us with false information? Are the decisions about our health, security and finances made by computer programs inexplicable and biased? Will these algorithms become so complex that we can no longer control them? Are robots going to take our jobs? Will better health care lead to an aging population which cannot be cared for? Can we provide housing for our ever-growing urban populations? And has our demand for energy driven the Earth's climate to the edge of catastrophe? John Browne argues that we need not and must not put the brakes on technological advance. Civilization is founded on engineering innovation; all progress stems from the human urge to make things and to shape the world around us, resulting in greater freedom, health and wealth for all. Drawing on history, his own experiences and conversations with many of today's great innovators, he uncovers the basis for all progress and its consequences, both good and bad. He argues compellingly that the same spark that triggers each innovation can be used to counter its negative consequences. This book provides an blueprint for how we can keep moving towards a brighter future.”

  • The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America

    By: Margaret O’Mara

    Publisher: Penguin

    Margaret O'Mara worked in the White House of Bill Clinton and Al Gore in the earliest days of the commercial Internet. There she saw firsthand how deeply intertwined Silicon Valley was with the federal government--and always had been--and how shallow the common understanding of the secrets of the Valley's success actually was.

    In this work, she tells the story of mavericks and visionaries, but also of powerful institutions creating the framework for innovation, from the Pentagon to Stanford University. It is also a story of a community that started off remarkably homogeneous and tight-knit and stayed that way, and whose belief in its own mythology has deepened into a collective hubris that has led to astonishing triumphs as well as devastating second-order effects.

  • The Design of Coffee: An Engineering Approach

    By: William Ristenpart, Tonya Kuhl

    Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

    Here’s another work that was published a few years ago but is relevant this year for its emphasis on cross-discipline collaboration, a trend noted in the chemistry industry.

    From the publisher:

    "[This book] provides a non-mathematical introduction to chemical engineering, as illustrated by the roasting and brewing of coffee. Hands-on coffee experiments demonstrate key engineering principles, including material balances, chemical kinetics, mass transfer, fluid mechanics, conservation of energy, and colloidal phenomena. The experiments lead to an engineering design competition where contestants strive to make the best tasting coffee using the least amount of energy – a classic engineering optimization problem, but one that is both fun and tasty! 

    Anybody with access to a sink, electricity, and inexpensive coffee roasting and brewing equipment can do these experiments, either as part of a class or with your friends at home. The Design of Coffee will help you understand how to think like an engineer – and how to make excellent coffee!”

  • Human Compatible: AI and the Problem of Control

    By: Stuart Russell, Allen Lane

    Publisher: Viking

    From the publisher:

    “Creating superior intelligence would be the biggest event in human history. Unfortunately, according to the world's pre-eminent AI expert, it could also be the last. In this book on the biggest question facing humanity, the author explains why he has come to consider his own discipline an existential threat to his own species, and lays out how we can change course before it's too late. There is no one better placed to assess the promise and perils of the dominant technology of the future than Russell, who has spent decades at the forefront of AI research. Through brilliant analogies prose, he explains how AI actually works, how it has an enormous capacity to improve our lives - but why we must ensure that we never lose control of machines more powerful than we are. Here Russell shows how we can avert the worst threats by reshaping the foundations of AI to guarantee that machines pursue our objectives, not theirs.”

  • Organ-on-a-Chip: Engineered Microenvironments for Safety and Efficacy Testing

    By: Julia Hoeng (Editor), David Bovard (Editor), Manuel Peitsch (Editor)

    Publisher: Academic Press/Elsevier

    From the publisher:

    “[This book] contains chapters from world-leading researchers in the field of organ on a chip development and applications, with perspectives from life sciences, medicine, physiology and engineering. The book details the field, with sections covering the major organ systems and currently available technologies, platforms and methods. As readers may also be interested in creating biochips, materials and engineering best practice, these topics are also described. Users will learn about the limitations of 2D in-vitro models and the available 3D in-vitro models (what benefits they offer and some examples). Finally, the MOC section shows how the organ on a chip technology can be adapted to improve the physiology of in-vitro models.”

  • Sustainable Engineering Products and Manufacturing Technologies

    By: Kaushik Kumar (Editor), Divya Zindani (Editor), J. Paulo Davim (Editor)

    Publisher: Academic Press/Elsevier

    From the publisher:

    “[This book] provides the reader with a detailed look at the latest research into technologies that reduce the environmental impacts of manufacturing. All points where engineering decisions can influence the environmental sustainability of a product are examined, including the sourcing of non-toxic, sustainable raw materials, how to choose manufacturing processes that use energy responsibly and minimize waste, and how to design products to maximize reusability and recyclability. The subject of environmental regulation is also addressed, with references to both the US and EU and the future direction of legislation.”

    Finally, sustainability factors are investigated alongside other product considerations, such as quality, price, manufacturability and functionality, to help readers design processes and products that are economically viable and environmentally friendly.”

  • Introductory Electrical Engineering With Math Explained in Accessible Language

    By: Magno Urbano

    Publisher: Wiley

    From the publisher:

    “[This work] offers a text that explores the basic concepts and principles of electrical engineering. The author explains the underlying mathematics involved in electrical engineering through the use of examples that help with an understanding of the theory. The text contains clear explanations of the mathematical theory that is needed to understand every topic presented, which will aid students in engineering courses who may lack the necessary basic math knowledge.”

    “Designed to breakdown complex math concepts into understandable terms, the book incorporates several math tricks and knowledge such as matrices determinant and multiplication. The author also explains how certain mathematical formulas are derived. In addition, the text includes tables of integrals and other tables to help, for example, find resistors’ and capacitors’ values. The author provides the accessible language, examples, and images that make the topic accessible and understandable.”

  • What Is Data Engineering?

    By: Lewis Gavin

    Publisher: O'Reilly Media, Inc.

    From the publisher:

    "The demand for data scientists is well-known, but when it comes time to build solutions based on data, your company also needs data engineers—people with strong data warehousing and programming backgrounds. In fact, whether you’re powering self-driving cars or creating music playlists, this field has emerged as one of the most important in modern business. In this report, Lewis Gavin explores key aspects of data engineering and presents a case study from Spotify that demonstrates the tremendous value of this role."

  • Lithium-Ion Battery Failures in Consumer Electronics

    By: Ashish Arora, Sneha Arun Lele, Noshirwan Medora, Shukri Souri 

    Publisher: Artech House

    From the publisher:

    “This comprehensive resource caters to system designers that are looking to incorporate lithium ion (li-ion) batteries in their applications. Detailed discussion of the various system considerations that must be addressed at the design stage to reduce the risk of failures in the field is presented. The book includes technical details of all state-of-the-art Li-on energy storage subsystems and their requirements and provides a system designer a single resource detailing all of the common issues navigated when using Li-ion batteries to reduce the risk of field failures.

    “The book details the various industry standards that are applicable to the subsystems of Li-ion energy storage systems and how the requirements of these standards may impact the design of their system. Checklists are included to help readers evaluate their own battery system designs and identify gaps in the designs that increase the risk of field failures. The book is packed with numerous examples of issues that have caused field failures and how a proper design/assembly process could have reduced the risk of these failures.”

 

John Blyler is a Design News senior editor, covering the electronics and advanced manufacturing spaces. With a BS in Engineering Physics and an MS in Electrical Engineering, he has years of hardware-software-network systems experience as an editor and engineer within the advanced manufacturing, IoT and semiconductor industries. John has co-authored books related to system engineering and electronics for IEEE, Wiley, and Elsevier.

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