Tuesday, 2 September 2008
Recently, I read an Engineering News Record blog entry about a book we've published at ASCE, "Don't Throw This Away! The Civil Engineering Life," by Brian Brenner, P.E. A professor at Tufts University, Brenner teaches structural engineering as well as bridge history and aesthetics. Having spent much of his career with the Parsons Brinckerhoff firm, he received the Boston Society of Civil Engineers Presidents Award in 2000 and ASCE's Thomas R. Torrens Award in 2005. During his tenure at Parsons Brinckerhoff, he wrote a number of short essays for their technical magazine, PB Network. "Don't Throw This Away" is a collection of many of those short essays plus some others.
I was extremely impressed by the diversity of Brenner's writing. He delves into a number of his civil engineering experiences in ways that are funny as well as thought provoking. Other essays touch on his personal life, one of which was about being called "babysitter-in-law." He recounts that while attending the wedding of a now-adult child for whom his wife used to baby-sit, his wife of course was remembered by the new spouse, family and friends, but everyone else referred to him as the "babysitter-in-law."
I particularly enjoyed four short essays that inspired the book’s title, "Don’t Throw This Away." We are all pack rats, some of us moreso than others. I remember early in my career visiting the office of Baltimore’s department head for water and sewer. His desk was a series of feet plus high stacks of papers. The stacks covered every square inch of his desk except for a 10-inch opening right in front center of his desk. If you wanted to see his face, you had to sit squarely in front of the center of his desk. Anything to the side, your view was blocked. What was utterly amazing was if you asked him a question about something, he could reach into one of those dozens of stacks and pull out the precise piece of paper that you needed to proceed with the project.
Brenner also shares that uncanny ability to relate the simple aspects of modern life to civil engineering. His stories of hamsters gone wild and how that relates to civil engineers currently "grappling with the difficult set of questions related to sustainability" is fascinating. I would urge everyone to get this book. It is a quick read, and is just the right book for an airplane trip or a relaxing vacation day. As I mentioned, it is available through ASCE Press; click here if you're interested.