Book Reviews

Engineering: A Beginner's Guide

Natasha McCarthy's book places engineering in its professional, social and philosophical contexts.

Historical and Professional Perspective

She describes modern engineering as high technology and traces the origins of organised civilian engineering to the eighteenth century to the establishment in France of the École Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées in 1747 and École Polytechnique (as the d'École Centrale des Travaux Publics) in 1794.

She describes the essence of engineering as a combination of modeling, design, specification, testing and demonstration of the efficacy of designs to allow objects to be produced economically and in quick fashion.

Social Perspective

Natasha McCarthy notes that it is often overlooked that engineering is a highly social activity both in the way it organises itself into teams to fulfil clients needs and in the consumer focussed products it produces.

Philosophy of Technology

Beyond the aims of modelling, design and testing she adds one other fundamental element to the concept of engineering. Every engineer has an implicit duty to understand the knowledge which has been hard won by the successes and failures of generations of past engineers.

The reason for this is more than just a moral duty. Engineering knowledge is different from factual knowledge (know-what) and she illustrates in that it involves know-how which is acquired skill and judgement. Know-what will only take you so far and know-how is needed to implement a complex task or design a complicated system.


This book serves the professional well. In its observations, examples and insights it reminds us of how broad engineering is and how unified it's practices and values are.


Natasha McCarthy

Engineering: A Beginners Guide

One World Publications, 2009

ISBN 978-1-85168-662-9