Gordon shows, with the confidence of an engineer who’d made materials for WW2 fighter planes but with a disarming irreverence, why it’s almost impossible to destroy a brick arch, why the comet airliner crashed, why ships still break in two, how to create superstore whiskers of glass, and countless others insights into our material world.
As the first biomimetician he counters the prejudice many engineers used to have against natural materials, showing how many natural materials exceed conventional engineering materials in their properties. Above all he explains the difference between strength, stiffness, toughness and elsaticity in the most vivid way possible.
The great beauty of structural engineering is that that the whole subject can be explained in terms of two opposed concepts: compression and tension. The interrelationship between the two lies behind every structure, from the Parthenon to the London Eye. Once you grasp this, buildings and bridges never look the same again. As a rule of thumb, all buildings until the 19th century used compression only, but architects and engineers now increasingly favour tension structures, being lighter and potentially more elegant, hence those wonderful cable-stayed bridges.
Not only do you learn wonderful things from Gordon’s books, he writes so well, with a tone so intimate you feel he is talking just to you. He laces his text with stories from nature, the classical world (a passion of his), and his own rich experience of the triumphs and disasters of a life in engineering. They are books to re-read as you might want to read again any literary classic. They are literary classics.