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As discussed in our Maths and Physics reading lists, the admissions tutors are more keen to test your reasoning and problem solving abilities than to see how much you’ve read. Reading a few books on engineering won’t guarantee you a place, but reading around the subject will be valuable and rewarding. It will provide you with material for your personal statement, and also give you a taste of the broad subject. It will also perhaps suggest paths of investigation into in subjects that particular interest you.

Here are some books that offer interesting insights into engineering.

David Blockley – Engineering: A Very Short Introduction

Engineering is incredibly broad, with a rich and varied history. This is a great place to begin to grasp the scope of the discipline. This book outlines many of the key fields in engineering, and how the history of the subject has led us to the systems we employ and create today. It traces engineering right back to its Archimedean roots, and takes it forward to the modern world, exploring the role of engineering in the technological hive of the 21st century.

Don Norman, The Design of Everyday Things

This is a famous text in the fields of both engineering and psychology, aiming to understand why some products appeal to human nature and why some products do not. It explores what makes a system appeal to the human psyche, and why some designs are not as attractive and usable as others. Although actual engineering is not the focus, in terms of equations and intricate designs, it is an important investigation into why we need well-designed systems, and an interesting take on engineering as a discipline. 

Rob Lawlor – Engineering in Society

This book outlines the role that engineering plays in a wide variety of careers. It includes a diverse spectrum of fields in which engineering is essential, and has been put together with the intention of showing the prospective engineering student where their degree might take them. 

Gordon – Structures: or Why Things Don’t Fall Down

This book gives an insight into some of the core concepts of engineering, but stripped of the jargon and complicated equations. In an accessible, engaging style, it answers questions that may play on your mind, such as: why don’t suspension bridges collapse? How do dams hold water back? If you want an overview of the type of problems you’ll be providing solutions to in an engineering degree, this is a good place to start. 

Petroski, Pushing the Limits: New Adventures into Engineering

This text is an overview of the feats of modern engineering. It goes through many of the failures and success stories of modern engineering, focusing in on the author’s personal experiences with large engineering projects, such as the Three Gorges Dam in China. If you’re interested in learning about how engineering has shaped history, then this is a brilliant book!


Don’t worry if you only read a few of these books; they should supplement your maths and physics studies rather than dominate them, and each one is insightful enough to provide you with a plethora of new ideas. So take your pick and lose yourself in an engineering classic.

If one particularly interests you, you could mention it on your personal statement. And luckily for you, we’ve got a guide to your engineering personal statement.

Personal Statement
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