Book: Structures by J. E. Gordon

Interesting, if a bit miscellaneous, book about structural engineering for the lay-person

J. E. Gordon
Structures: or Why things don't fall down
Da Capo Press, 2003 (originally published in 1978)
ISBN: 0-306-81283-5
373 pages (main text)

You'd need to be a bit of a geek to enjoy reading Structures for fun. Happily, I am more than a bit of a geek and so I did. The book is about structural engineering and most folks won't be interested in reading a book on that subject for fun. But if, like me, you don't know much of anything about the subject but would be interested to learn a bit about it, Structures is likely to be an interesting and pretty fun read. There's little in it to prevent a general reader from enjoying it and learning something.

The book covers a good deal of ground. There are chapters on the origin of the science on which structural engineering is based, on how cracks propagate, on walls, bridges, and beams, and one on accidents. Indeed, the only grounds on which you might criticize the book (apart from the trivial matter of a relatively large number of unnecessary epigraphs) is that it's a bit miscellaneous. It reads rather as though Mr Gordon had a certain number of topics to cover and then sat down to write corresponding chapters. It's a bit like a textbook for a lay-person; there aren't very many connections made or themes pursued between chapters. That's a flaw in my opinion, but not a huge one.

Mr Gordon's writing style is pleasant and conversational, which is good since structural engineering is a potentially rather dry subject. Take, for example, "Like many official explanations, this one has the merit of being at least partly true, though in reality is is very far from being the whole story" (p. 71), There's a little bit of math in the book, but it's not very complicated and can be safely skipped without missing the gist of what's being discussed.

There are more than a few interesting things to learn from the book. For example, it seems that the statues at the top of gothic flying buttresses help them stand up. And there's a story of how a circus-proprietor called on Mr Gordon when he was working as an aircraft engineer and showed him an invention that turned out to be of considerable value to aircraft. And you'll probably learn some cool new words such as "monocoque".

Posted: Thu - September 21, 2006 at 06:52 PM   Main   Category: