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Suggested reads for aspiring students of architecture and engineering

Our Librarians, David and Thomas, have compiled a list of books you might like to explore if you are thinking about what to study at university.

A student opens a book in the middle of two sets of library shelves filled with books.
Try your local library to see if they stock some of the titles below.

Finding a good read

From tinkering with the mechanics of Jules Verne's time machine to looking out over the grand canyon from the rooftop of one of Mary Colter's designs, a good book can take you anywhere. Our Faculty of Engineering & Design Librarians keep the shelves on campus stocked with the latest thoughts and ideas on architecture and engineering, as well as preserving the heritage and wisdom contained in some of our oldest volumes. They've asked our academics and students to recommend their favourite reads including textbooks, fiction and biographies.

If you think you might be an aspiring architect or engineer, perhaps you will find your answer in the pages of one of the books listed below. You may discover an emerging field of research, a new appreciation for the early pioneers of machine learning, or perhaps a different point of view on how we can shape our world in the future. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but hopefully a useful place to begin.



  • Twenty Buildings Every Architect Should Understand by Simon Unwin
  • Analysing Architecture by Simon Unwin
  • The Homes We Build: A World of Houses and Habitats by Anne Jonas
  • Indoor Environment and Well-being by Saint-Gobain


  • A Place of My Own: The Architecture of Daydreams by Michael Pollan
  • Breaking Ground: Architecture by Women by Jane Hall
  • The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman
  • Built: The Hidden Stories Behind Our Structures by Roma Agrawal


  • The Architect's Apprentice by Elif Shafak
  • Loving Frank by Nancy Horan


  • Black Built: History and Architecture in the Black Community Books by Paul Wellington
  • Renzo Piano: The Art of Making Buildings by The Royal Academy of Arts
  • African American Architects: Embracing Culture and Building Urban Communities by Melvin Mitchell

I still recall being introduced to the work of Renzo Piano Building Workshop (RPBW). Their work starts from an idea about making and construction or 'Techne', the Greek word from which tectonic (in its architectural sense) originates, meaning "the science or art of construction, both in relation to use and artistic design.” Piano was also a close colleague of engineer Peter Rice, who’s book ‘An Engineer Imagines’ is a fantastic read, and their relationship also epitomises the ethos of the joint department here at Bath. — Matthew Wickens, Senior Lecturer in Architecture

Introductions to engineering themes

  • Engineering: A Very Short Introduction by David Blockley
  • To Forgive Design: Understanding Failure by Henry Petroski
  • Hello World: How to be Human in the Age of the Machine by Hannah Fry
  • Engineering in Society by the Royal Academy of Engineering
  • The Maths of Life and Death by Kit Yates
  • A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
  • The Gecko’s Foot: How Scientists are Taking a Leaf from Nature’s Book by Peter Forbes
  • Human-Robot Interaction: An Introduction by Christoph Bartneck, Tony Belpaeme, Friederike Eyssel, Takayuki Kanda, Merel Keijsers, and Selma Šabanović
  • Connections by James Burke
  • The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman

I’m a fan of Henry Petroski and I’ve read several of his books – most recently “The Book on the Bookshelf”, which is all about the design and technologies behind physical books and bookshelves. I still think Jules Verne is THE starting point for young engineers. — Evros Loukaides, Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering

Civil Engineering


  • Civil Engineering: A Very Short Introduction by David Muir Wood
  • Engineering: A Beginner's Guide by Natasha McCarthy

Popular non-fiction:

  • Built: The Hidden Stories Behind Our Structures by Roma Agrawal
  • The great bridge: the epic story of the building of the Brooklyn Bridge by David McCullough


  • Brunel: the man who built the world Amazon by Steven Brindle
  • Seashaken houses: a lighthouse history from Eddystone to Fastnet by Tom Nancollas
  • Women of Steel and Stone: 22 Inspirational Architects, Engineers, and Landscape Designers by Anna M. Lewis
  • An Engineer Imagines by Peter Rice

Chemical Engineering


  • The Beginner's Guide to Engineering: Chemical Engineering by John T. Stimus
  • Chemical Engineering Explained: Basic Concepts for Novices Amazon by David Shallcross

Popular non-fiction:

  • How Bad are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything by Mike Berners-Lee
  • Drinking Water: A History by James Salzman


  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
  • Between Genius And Genocide: The Tragedy of Fritz Haber, Father of Chemical Warfare by Daniel Charles
  • Ignition! An Informal History of Liquid Rocket Propellants by John D. Clark

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Rebecca Skloot) is simply brilliant and I’d recommend it to anyone. It’s a biography of Henrietta Lacks, and the HeLa cell line (which was grown from Lack’s cervical cancer cells). The science is explained in a very accessible manner, but more importantly, it discusses issues of ethics and race openly and thoughtfully. — Dr Matthew Lennox, Lecturer in Chemical Engineering

Electronic and Electrical Engineering


  • Modern Robotics: Mechanics, Planning, and Control by Kevin M. Lynch and Frank C. Park


  • Bottled Lightning – Superbatteries, Electric Cars, and the new lithium economy by Seth Fletcher
  • The Fully Charged Guide to Electric Vehicles & Clean Energy by Robert Llewellyn
  • Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future by Martin Ford
  • Artificial Intelligence: A Guide for Thinking Humans by Melanie Mitchell
  • The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Brian Mealer
  • A Computer Called LEO: Lyons Tea Shops and the world’s first office computer by Georgina Ferry


  • The Man Who Invented the Twentieth Century: Nikola Tesla, Forgotten Genius of Electricity by Robert Lomas
  • My Inventions and Other Writings by Nikola Tesla
  • How the Laser Happened: Adventures of a Scientist by Charles H. Townes
  • Magnificent Women and their revolutionary machines by Henrietta Heald

Mechanical Engineering


  • Modern Robotics: Mechanics, Planning, and Control by Kevin M. Lynch and Frank C. Park
  • Structures: Or Why Things Don't Fall Down by J. E. Gordon


  • Taking on Gravity: A Guide to Inventing the Impossible from the Man Who Learned to Fly by Richard Browning
  • How to build a car by Adrian Newey
  • The Case For Mars by Robert Zubrin
  • Gods and Robots: Myths, Machines, and Ancient Dreams of Technology by Adrienne Mayor


  • Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam
  • Not much of an engineer by Stanley Hooker
  • Isambard Kingdom Brunel: The Life of an Engineering Genius by Colin Maggs

Hidden Figures is a very beautiful book that tells the true story of three African-American women who worked as computers (in the 60s) at NASA. There’s also an Italian physicist called Carlo Robelli who is an amazing writer. I’d recommend his book about Heisenberg and quantum mechanics. — Elisabetta Schettino, PhD Advanced Automotive Propulsion Systems

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