Monday, March 4, 2013

W9: The Civil Engineer: His Origins

Growing up, my Chinese parents have always ingrained into me that they would support whatever career choice I decided on in life, whether it’s doctor or engineer. This week’s Biblio-Mat book is as close as I will come to fulfilling that.
It has been around the engineered block a few times.
The Civil Engineer: His Origins, by not a single author but a collective (the American Society of Engineers), is not a pretty book. Published in 1970, it looks every bit the part of a late sixties paperback from its low quality microscopic print to the vintage scuffed cover.

True to its title, the book opens with the origin of the word engineer and spends the rest of the 106 pages elaborating on the long prestigious history of the craft. While not bone dry, engineers aren’t really known for their comedic styling, probably because humour and collapsing bridges generally do not go hand in hand. This is quickly reflected in quoting every single modern dictionary’s definition of the word ‘engineer’ in the first chapter. Certain parts, like the explanations of engineering principles are interesting but other sections, such as the six straight pages on the beauty of arches, left much to be desired.
Lesson on arches: they're made of bricks and curve around.
Having lived in more than a few structurally unsound places through my university career and the first few years out of it with a BA in English Lit, I have the utmost respect for engineers but through the book, though, there is an undertone of ostentatiousness where the authors hint at the Society of Engineers being a sort of secret elite organization not unlike the Freemasons or the Stonecutters. Perhaps in the 1970s it may have been seen as such but the continuous name dropping of supposed prestigious members of the society dragged on for much too long.
I now have a wealth of outdated knowledge on surveying tools.
What was also beyond my comprehension was the fact that every third page had footnotes that were half a page long. It was always my assumption that the people who are in charge of keeping city infrastructures standing and functional would be knowledgeable in the area of layouts and space planning. 

An average footnote in this book.
An above average footnote, also in this book.
The illustrations themselves were also placed in awkward positions. The images of surveying tools, for instance, all came before the chapter explaining the tools. Cart before the horse, or in this case, the keystone before the bricks? (There were many many pages on arches.)

Book rating: 6/10 (At least the ancient history portions were interesting)

Random Quote: "I take pleasure in furnishing the best information I have as to the origin of the word 'engineer'"


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