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Structures: Or Why Things Don't Fall Down

4.14  ·  Rating Details ·  908 Ratings  ·  70 Reviews
For anyone who has ever wondered why suspension bridges don't collapse under eight lanes of traffic, how dams hold back-or give way under-thousands of gallons of water, or what principles guide the design of a skyscraper or a kangaroo, this book will ease your anxiety and answer your questions. J. E. Gordon strips engineering of its confusing technical terms, communicating ...more
Paperback, 395 pages
Published July 10th 2003 by Da Capo Press (first published 1978)
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Daniel It's definitely not a graduate level book. I would probably put it in as supplementary reading in a first year undergraduate structural course.

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Nov 13, 2007 Mykle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nothing has fallen on me since I read this book.
Fraser Kinnear
Jul 05, 2014 Fraser Kinnear rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, history
What an incredible book! The best layman's introduction to a scientific topic that I've read since Feynman's QED. The author is also hilariously British and doesn't waste an opportunity to rag on the French.

Much of what I write below is copied verbatim from the text, but am too lazy to identify what with appropriate quotes.

These notes constitute about the first 175 pages, I should get around to documenting what I learned in the back half at some point.

basic definitions
- Streess = s= load / area
Simon Bostock
May 09, 2011 Simon Bostock rated it really liked it
Shelves: the-team
Consistently illuminating - I read this book with the intention of seeing how learning about physical/engineering structures would translate/resonate for Organisational Development.

And it does. Gordon doesn't see a 'clear distinction between material and structure', for example - which I think is a really interesting insight.

It's fun, there's lots of interestingly powerful new words to learn, and, although it's very engineer-ish, I managed to grok most of it.
Mar 26, 2017 Peter rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nf, science, favorites, ebook
With no real relevant educational or vocational background, I came to this book for the title and inspired chapter headings ("Strain energy and modern fracture mechanics--with a digression on bows, catapults, and kangaroos") and stayed for the captivating asides: "All over the world bridge-building used to be associated with children’s dances...and with human sacrifices which are not just legends. At least one child’s skeleton has been discovered immured in the foundations of a bridge."

Along the
Peter Mcloughlin
Good introduction to civil engineering and mechanical engineering. How objects respond to stress and strains and how to put materials together to make sturdy usable structures, buildings and machines. Very good book for the amateur engineer in all of us. don't not have to go beyond high school math to understand the principles invoved.
Javier M. R.
Mar 18, 2017 Javier M. R. marked it as could-not-bear-to-finish
This book was so interesting, really really interesting, but... always is a "but" in the unfinished books shelf isn't?, well the beginning was amazing and it maintained the pace -at least to 36% when i drop it- but the thing that bug me was the parallelism that the autor made of how the structures work with the human anatomy. I have instruction in basic mechanics -I am an engineer- and i love all that stuff of stress and strain in structures and objects, but when you start saying that a lot of s ...more
Apr 23, 2015 Aaron rated it really liked it
Shelves: engineering
Structures is, in terms of classes at the University of Florida, Mechanics of Materials and its lab, as well as Mechanical Design 1 and 2. Anything that is covered in these classes is covered here with a bit less math. Yet, while the textbooks for these classes may be dry and direct, Gordon is willing to make jokes, go on tangents, and explore his opinions. This makes an engineering book- beyond all expectations- a page turner.

More than one of my professors at UF used to be a consultant. When th
Apr 14, 2015 Rob rated it liked it
A really interesting look at how engineers look at structures and materials, how the properties of different building materials influence the design, the practical considerations of various architectural styles, why things break and fall down. Author is an old British chap, writing in the 70s, who apparently really likes ships and greek mythology.
Feb 28, 2010 Elaine rated it really liked it
Physics from a different point of view. Interesting, although the social commentary in this day and age made me cringe.
Roop Surana
yet to explore..
Feb 28, 2017 Jordanne rated it it was ok
Simply because it wasn't as relevant to my work as I originally thought it might be and struggling through the first 200 pages was too difficult to warrant me continuing with the whole thing. I imagine this a rather interesting and even amusing read for anyone who really enjoys physics or engineering but it wasn't for me.

I did learn some interesting facts such as the fact Hooke invented more useful stuff other than his Law; a lot of Yew trees grow in the ruins of Pompeii; a yew bow cannot be
Philip Hollenback
Dec 02, 2016 Philip Hollenback rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, nonfiction
Here's some light reading about structural engineering. Well, there is some math, but not too much. Lots of really interesting insights in to what makes structures stay up or fall down, why planes or ships come apart, etc. I wold recommend this for anyone interested in general engineering.
Mugizi Rwebangira
Sep 19, 2016 Mugizi Rwebangira rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a bit of a an odd book, it's basically "Structural Engineering and Materials Science for Dummies" except it's not really dumbed down. It's just not the kind of thing you would expect to be find outside of an engineering textbook. Professor Gordon does a wonderful job illuminating the structural and materials properties of a wide range of things from animals to buildings, airplanes, cars and lots of other things. He does get a bit too much into the weeds for my taste at points and it's wo ...more
Mar 21, 2013 Tony rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
I learned of this book from an advertisement by The Folio Society. I wasn’t interested enough to order their edition (@$64.95), so I checked with our local library and, sure enough, they had a copy. It was a publication by the Scientific American Library, and was profusely illustrated. Frankly, it reminded me of my days in school, taking courses in Mechanics or Materials Science. It would have made an excellent secondary text fo
Tom Lee
Mar 07, 2012 Tom Lee rated it really liked it
A charming introduction to the science of structural engineering. This is the best kind of science book: one written by a distinguished expert at the end of his career, when s/he has a lifetime of perspective, anecdotes and wry observations to offer. The very British Gordon is a charming guide -- my favorite parts involved him giving historical French engineers a hard time -- and though I doubt many will emerge from reading this volume with an understanding of how to apply the principles under d ...more
Aug 22, 2013 Zenko rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013
Este libro me ha resultado muy interesante, habla de lo divino y lo humano, todo ello relacionado, de alguna manera, con las estructuras. Introduce con ejemplos sencillos y entendibles la elasticidad, la tensión y compresión.

Explica un montón de cosas, como por ejemplo porque algunos edificios tienen la forma que tienen, por qué las vigas tienen la característica forma de I a la que estamos acostumbrados o porque los modistos diseñan la ropa de la forma en que lo hacen.

Columnas, paredes, puentes
Kevin Hanks
May 22, 2016 Kevin Hanks rated it really liked it
Interesting and fascinating book! It has one of my all-time favorite quotes on engineering, and particularly the design and drawing-production stage: "when you have got as far as a working drawing, if the structure you propose to have made is an important one, the next thing to do, and a very proper thing, is to worry about it like blazes ... It is confidence that causes accidents and worry which prevents them. So go over your sums not once or twice but again and again and again." I find this an ...more
Feb 04, 2017 Nicholas rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was much more fun than a book about structural engineering deserves to be. The theory is very accessible and comprehensible, and it's illustrated very interestingly with reference to examples, often from the natural world. For example, thrust lines in architecture are discussed with reference to Doric temples and Gothic cathedrals, and torsion in flight surfaces with reference to the off-centre placement of the quill in the wing feather of a bird.

James Gordon has added a lot of his own wit
Gregorius Gerry Purnomo
Mar 29, 2016 Gregorius Gerry Purnomo rated it really liked it
When we talk about structure, it is usually about buildings, roads or bridges. But not for J. E. Gordon; he said that all things is a structure, from buildings, planes, trees, birds, and even humans. In this book, he philosophically explained stress and strain theory, fracture mechanics, and cracks.

Then he covers all things about arches, from arch bridges to dams to old European cathedrals. He also gives extra attention to shear and torsion, and catastrophic things that can happens due to torsio
Jul 22, 2016 Dan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is for those who are interested in the full unabridged history concerning all structures known to man and anything that can affect them, along with palpable explanations around civil engineering terms of stress, strain, shearing, and what not, along with an abundance of philosophical musings, along with excruciating details regarding every possible aspect of masts, for instance. Definitely for the naval, aviation, and construction geeks, ancient or modern. Not much for me, though.

On th
Stephen Sisk
Sep 26, 2015 Stephen Sisk rated it it was amazing
Highly recommend to anyone interested in learning more about how the infrastructure they depend on every day works or that is generally curious about the world.

This book is like a great course in college - you learn a lot, but the professor does a good job of tying it to real life examples, so every lesson is interesting.

If I told you the book was about structural engineering, you'd think that it involves a lot of math. Basically - don't worry about it. The author does not assume a lot of physi
Chauncey Bird
Sep 12, 2015 Chauncey Bird rated it it was amazing
J.E. Gordon is an engineer that is not above having some fun while explaining the fascinating world of his profession. More than a few times I audibly laughed at Mr. Gordon's sudden terse sentences of pure wit. This book has helped me see the natural and human-made world more clearly and with renewed respect. Mr. Gordon's ability to take a potentially (and perhaps naturally) dry subject and bring it to life with clever explanations, detailed illustrations, and elegant orations make this a work w ...more
Oct 15, 2007 Tim rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: smart people who want to know why things don't fall down
Recommended to Tim by: George Dyson & Maclen Marvit
Shelves: engineering
Very excellent book on the fundamentals of structural engineering, written for the intelligent non-engineer. Gordon doesn't shy away from details, but neither does he hesitate to calculate the Poisson ratio of his tummy whilst taking a bath, or describe the functioning of a bat's wing.

My only problems with Gordon are his occasional dismissals of the reasoning powers of the fairer sex, but one can only expect such narrow views of the world from a British engineer writing at the end of the 70s.
James Paden
Nov 01, 2015 James Paden rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a hard read. I could read about five pages in a setting, but the topic is fascinating so I keep going. The first half of this book is intriguing. I might skip the second half. It just became too technical and it was harder for me to keep my interest. All in all, I highly recommend this book to anyone who, like me, kept looking at buildings and other structures and asking: "how does that stay up?" Now I know!
Alex Devero
Feb 22, 2016 Alex Devero rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
Structures are a fundamental part of both the man-made and natural worlds. And while a rooftop and a horse would seem to have little in common, they're affected by the same scientific concepts that keep structures intact. Stress, strain, force and strength are the keys to designing and maintaining the structures so important to our everyday lives, and researchers play a critical role in keeping us safe from their collapse.
Vasil Kolev
Apr 11, 2015 Vasil Kolev rated it it was amazing
Shelves: must-read, tech, science
This is an incredible book, well written, with a sense of humor, and packed with interesting information. The author manages to show how actually interesting the structures, materials and their use are, in both man-made constructions (buildings, ships, planes) and natural object (internal organs, organisms, etc). There isn't a lot of mathematics in the book, just enough to show the basic relations between different variables.
Feb 17, 2008 Jay rated it really liked it
A really excellent science book. Gordon makes structural engineering fascinating (not the easiest task) and really spurs you to think about the world around you. The title hints at his willingness to question assumptions and tackle at the most basic level why things operate the way they do. There are also lots of good historical anecdotes of how the science evolved and acts of engineering derring-do and sacrifices.
Alex Monegro
Jan 07, 2015 Alex Monegro rated it really liked it
Gordon definitely makes the topic much more accessible than imagined, while keeping a lot of the important science associated with ideas like stress, strain, elasticity, and tension. However, I wish that he hadn't waited all the way to the end of the book to tie it all together, and to argue why it's relevant to every day life. If I hadn't been committed to finishing the book I would have quit quite early on and missed the great wrap up.
Chirayu Batra
Nov 26, 2016 Chirayu Batra rated it it was amazing
Your life will not be same after reading this. First, your knowledge about structures will increase significantly and second nothing will ever fall down upon you :D
Very nicely written book, with a detailed explanation of many daily life structures. One of the interesting things to read was how nature inspires various structures.
Fantastic read, detailed review to follow next month on my personal website.
Jun 14, 2016 Divya rated it really liked it
It's a good book but was a slow read for me. I dreaded the pages that had formulae and graphs as it's been a long time I read anything that required a formula. I had to put an effort to continue reading although the formula's were quite simple and didn't really come in the way of reading.

I realised that I had been noticing bridges, buildings and structures a little more than usual. I think that's a good thing and hopefully I can retain at least a few things that I learned from the book.
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“When you climb the tower of a cathedral it becomes shorter, as a result of your added weight, by a very, very tiny amount, but it really does become shorter.” 2 likes
“reduction. Professor J. P. Paul, of the University of Strathclyde, tells me that his researches seem to indicate that a more important cause of fracture in old people is the progressive loss of nervous control over the tensions in the muscles. A sudden alarm may cause a muscular contraction which is enough to break off the neck of the femur, for instance, without the patient having experienced any external blow. When this happens the patient naturally falls to the ground -perhaps on top of some obstacle-so that the fracture is blamed, wrongly, on the fall rather than on the muscular spasm. It is said that similar fracture can occur in the hind leg of certain African deer when they are startled by a lion.” 0 likes
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