100 Engineering Achievements That Changed History

Books Education
Image: Shelter Harbor Press
Image: Shelter Harbor Press

Some discoveries, events, or innovations have significantly changed the course of history. Antibiotics. The bubonic plague. The printing press. Our history and present day would be quite different if things like these had never happened.

Shelter Harbor Press has an ongoing book series called Ponderables, where each book in the series highlights 100 things in that discipline that changed history. The seventh book in the series, Engineering: An Illustrated History From Ancient Craft to Modern Technology edited by Tom Jackson comes out on October 25.

The book is organized roughly in chronological order from Stone Technology to Solar Power with each page spread covering from one to three technological advances. More modern takes on innovations are also included on the pages where relevant. These 100 advances were chosen with care, each one being a solution to a “ponderable” which is “a weighty problem that became an invention” and changed our lives.

Image: Shelter Harbor Press
Image: Shelter Harbor Press

After the introduction, the book describes different fields of science and how engineering has been applied to them. Then you get into the meat of the book, the 100 innovations that spread across time, geography, and fields of science. Here were my favorites to read, partly because I hadn’t heard of some of them:

  • Trireme—A fast, maneuverable warship
  • The Cloaca Maxima—The ancient world’s largest sewer
  • Icehouse—How ice was kept cool without refrigeration
  • The Pont du Gard—A three-tiered Roman aqueduct
  • Simple Machines—Because they are just awesome
  • Balloon—No explanation necessary, but the hot air balloons they show are beautiful
  • Airship—Blimps, dirigibles, zeppelins, etc.
  • Apollo Spacecraft—Rockets to the moon
  • E-Ink—Think: Kindle

The book is filled with photographs, diagrams, drawings, and artwork that illustrate each of the developments. Detailed captions explain what you’re seeing, and easily digestible text and sidebars give us an overview tour of engineering through known history.

Image: Shelter Harbor Press
Image: Shelter Harbor Press

After the main part of the book, you get a 10-page run down of engineering basics covering such things as how engines work, how arches stand, and material science. Next is a 6-page section on ponderables for the future, addressing questions like, “What will graphene do for us?” After that we get six pages of short biographies of engineers through history, from Imhotep to Elon Musk. Finally, the back of the book holds a 12-page removable timeline which allows readers to follow along through history as they learn about the innovations in the book, putting them into the context of what else was happening in the world at the time. The reverse side of the timeline shows 12 pages of more modern Engineering Marvels achieved through the joining of technology and construction.

While the book doesn’t go into depth with any one historical development, as you read through it you get a bigger picture of how engineering as improved and affected our lives for millennia. Engineering: An Illustrated History From Ancient Craft to Modern Technology is available October 25. A perfect gift for curious children and adults alike, everyone will learn something about the history of engineering.

If this book intrigues you, the other books in the Ponderables series are Mathematics: An Illustrated History of Numbers, The Universe: An Illustrated History of Astronomy, Philosophy: An Illustrated History of Thought, The Brain: An Illustrated History of Neuroscience, The Elements: An Illustrated History of the Periodic Table, and Physics: An Illustrated History of the Foundations of Science. These are all written or edited by Tom Jackson.

Note: I received the Engineering book for review purposes.

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