Stop. Take a moment or two to look away from this review and at your surroundings. If you are reading this outside on a smart device (tablet, phone etc..) you may see roads, power cables and cell towers. If you are indoors you probably have electricity, internet connectivity and water flowing into your building (in a good way hopefully, and not in a leaky way). Ever wonder how the magic of engineering happens? Grady Hillhouse is on hand with an illustrated field guide.
In the interest of openness and fairness: No Starch Press has given me a copy of the book for free for review purposes as part of their Early Access program. They do not have any say in the editorial content of this review or my site.
Engineering In Plain Sight is a fun, informative book that helps educate on the world around us. From the electrical grid that provides power to our homes, to the communication network that lets us talk to each other across the world, to the roads, rails and waterways that get us (and other objects) to where we need to be.
The book is due out September 2022 (full colour hardcover at 224 pages), and is split into 8 chapters covering the Electrical Grid, Communications, Roadways, Bridges and Tunnels, Railways, Dams, Levees and Coastal Structures, Municipal Water and Wastewater, and Construction. There is also an introduction, where Grady sums up some of the marvel of this book (“Even the most unexceptional parts of the built environment are monuments to the solutions to hundreds of practical engineering problems.“) whilst writing about how he became an engineer and a glossary for the multitude of terms engineering contains.
The chapters are split into text about the engineering, full colour illustrations breaking down the engineering and “Keep An Eye Out” sections, containing smaller pictures of engineering facts that make for a great spot when out in the world. It was fun to see the red hat engineer run up against nature several times and I personally think the “Keep An Eye Out” sections could become a great card/bingo based travel game.
The communications chapter was my favourite as it focussed on and explained how overhead cables are used to deliver cable TV (CATV), telephony (POTS) and fibre optics. The chapter then went on to explain trenching and directional boring (not a word I would use to describe this book!) to lay underground cabling and why underground cabling may be pressurised. I also learned about satellite technology, the Clarke Belt and the type of COWs that don’t go moo.
Grady does mention in the introduction that some of the engineering may not be the same across the world but for my son and I this lead to discussions on what / how engineering has been implemented in the UK compared to near Grady (in the U.S.). The chapter on rail could be a great read in the UK where train delays seemingly happen randomly during our winter months, the summer months or when a leaf lands on the line as Grady has reasoning behind each (tensile strength contracting, tensile strength expanding, contact patch between wheel and rail is really small).
It was also great to see technologies that UK doesn’t have (to my knowledge) such as the “zipper barriers” on roads to help with rush hour traffic (flowing towards cities in the morning, from cities in the evenings).
Want more Engineering? Check out Grady’s YouTube Channel, Practical Engineering. No Starch Press has several images from the book, and the first chapter (Electrical Grid) at https://nostarch.com/engineering-plain-sight .
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