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Structures: Or Why Things Don't Fall Down

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  2,229 ratings  ·  158 reviews
In a book that Business Insider noted as one of the "14 Books that inspired Elon Musk," J.E. Gordon strips engineering of its confusing technical terms, communicating its founding principles in accessible, witty prose.

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 gall
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.

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Nov 13, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Nothing has fallen on me since I read this book.
Fraser Kinnear
Jul 05, 2014 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
Saumitra Thakur
May 16, 2017 rated it liked it
Overall, I liked but did not love this book.

The author's purpose is to introduce the basic principles of structural engineering in a way that leaves the reader with good intuitions about how structures work, an appreciation for how the field has evolved (and, in turn, how we've evolved with it), and optimism for what the future holds.

On the basis of fulfilling its purpose, the author does a great job. The author breaks down difficult concepts into understandable chunks. He uses math judiciously
Mar 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nf, favorites, science, 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
Simon Bostock
May 09, 2011 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 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
!!! J.E. Gordon makes everything sooo interesting
Peter (Pete) 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.
Mar 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
Very interesting book, I learned a lot. Gordon's prose is readable. He is also opinionated and throws in just the right number of anecdotes. I read this book while also watching the "Great Courses" class, "Understanding the World's Greatest Structures," by Stephen Ressler, and think those lectures covered a lot of the same material but with more compelling examples, buildings and bridges.
Javier M. R.
Mar 18, 2017 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 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
EG Gilbert
Dec 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
Full of fundamentals and excellent diagrams illustrating basic principles of elasticity, tension, compression, shear, and torsion. Examples go back further than ancient Greece and work their way to the 20th century.

If you can get past the condescending tone and the anachronistic word choices of a 1978 professor assuming all his readers are male, you can learn a great deal.

Language example from page 270 describing overly stiff sports car suspension "As a result, of course, the ride became almost
Denis Romanovsky
This is a really great book on structures. One who has almost zero knowledge of the topic (like me) may easily deep dive into this book and understand almost everything. But it will take time...

The are some very interesting concepts from the author to remember and reuse in any other aspect of live and work.

I would recommend this book to people who wants to widen their outlook, to have a deeper understanding of things and to start learning structures.
Apr 14, 2015 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 01, 2017 rated it it was ok
Read this on recommendation of Elon Musk

Circumferential stress is twice that of longitudinal stress so that's why the sausage bursts along the length of the sausage

it gets dry about 3/5 of the way through and then he starts telling stories. it's a casual textbook. learn a couple things. i wonder what will stick
Feb 28, 2010 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.
Oct 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: engineering
A good book that aptly describe "Structures: Or Why Things Don't Fall Down".

It explains many structures: Stone Masonry, Suspension Bridges, Arches; Wood, steel, Stone as support structures; Tension, Compression of Materials; Lattices, Fracture Mechanics and many more. Through simple observation I'm sure people understand these concepts intuitively- Take fracture mechanics for example: You have one solid block of material like a wall- it requires a large amount of concentrated force to cause a s
A pithy, often humorous, and informative introduction to structural engineering concepts. Gordon is a rather "old school" engineer, and British to boot, and I enjoyed his tone being pretty much exactly what you would expect from that pedigree. The book ranks near to Colinvaux's "Why Big Fierce Animals Are Rare" (not only in the relentlessly precise title) in how much I learned per chapter, although the other book is a bit leaner, in a good way.

The other commonality with Colinvaux's book is that
Richard Thompson
Nov 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
I have long wished to have a better understanding of basic principles of engineering, but there are precious few books available for the aspiring amateur engineer. I wish I had found this book a while ago because it definitely scratched my itch to play at engineering. I love the idea of being able to look at a bridge, building or other structure and have a better sense of what holds it up and makes it stable, looking for lines of tension and compression and thinking about how the design represen ...more
Dec 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
I've regularly taught a technical communication course for engineers, which can be challenging when your degree is in English rather than engineering. So every time I teach the course, I try to do a bit of engineering-related reading on the side. This time around, it was Structures. I feel like I learned a lot from it, but the mathematics was frequently if not over my head then in one ear and out the other; I understood it in the moment, but it'd take repeat readings to be able to apply what I l ...more
Jun 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
It's a long book full of math and explanations but an eye opener on buildings and structures and what keeps them up from falling down. After reading this book I think I will never look at any man made structure with the same eyes as before. The book has exposed me to concepts such as strain, loads, pressure, cracks, materials etc. and it is enlightening for a non-engineering person such as myself. My education has been in business, economics and psychology. In college I had the usual pre-requisi ...more
Jesse Field
Mar 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Professor Gordon provides a glimpse of how a truly humane engineer looks at the world, identifying the intellectual achievements that have lead us to better design of structures, along with the sacrifices of aesthetic experience that have left us with a drab, uglier world. One that I guess nevertheless has great hope of becoming more interesting when future students look to Nature, to tensile structures over compression when possible, to new materials that combine flexibility with stiffness. Esp ...more
Jul 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Sometimes I feel strange about giving a book a very high or very low rating when that evaluation seems very particular to me and my circumstances. As a computer engineer, I only took a fairly basic mechanics course. I'm sure Young's modulus was mentioned at some point, but I probably forgot it all after I didn't need it anymore.

I think this book does a great job of presenting difficult structural properties in an intuitive way where possible, and in simple analytical models where necessary. The
Jeroen Delcour
Jul 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A very nice introduction to material science that is a joy to read. It finds a nice balance between keeping it light for the casual reader but not shying away from the underlying math. In fact, you can get a perfectly good intuition for the subject from this book even if you ignored the math altogether; all the major points are illustrated very well by examples and illustrations. But the math is there for those who find it helps.

The only parts I did not enjoy were the last two chapters, in which
Ryan Meyer
Aug 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
Structures is filled to the brim with excellent summaries of structural engineering, architectural concepts, and the history of human construction. For me - someone without an engineering background - the book was difficult to follow at times. Gordon often refers to specific mechanisms or parts of a machine, and I lacked the familiarity to properly understand the reference. I did enjoy Gordon's explanations of the history of structures. He details some of the construction of historical churches ...more
May 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Ruben Hekkens
Oct 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Writing a book on engineering has two dangers. If one uses too much detail, formulas and numbers he will scare the reader with complexity and probably also bore him to death. If however the writer uses too little detail or does not venture into important technical concepts at all, it will appear as if he has no insight in the matters himself and tries to "wing it". Mr. Gordon manages to avoid both pitfalls and deliver an entertaining book full of examples of buildings, bridges, boats and aeropla ...more
Jan 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A witty and extremely readable review of elasticity, tension, compression and shear physics and the applications of these in various everyday structures (or conversely, structural failure when they are not applied). If only I had read this book in high school, maybe I wouldn't have viewed Hooke's law and stress-strain curves as being as impractical as I did - then again, sweltering afternoons in the laboratory spent hanging weights to a flimsy spring made it somewhat difficult to imagine anythin ...more
May 14, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good book on why things work the way they do. Basic physics / mechanics and quite accessible. I quite like the humorous writing style, and have learned something each read. Well worth your time.

Not damning with faint praise, but this is just right for me trying to sleep - interesting enough to engage, not so gripping that I haven't had the kindle fall on my face halfway into my second chapter of the night. Luckily it's light, otherwise I'd be wearing bruises.
May 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Everyone should read this book, if just for the 'shear' fact of things we take for granted our entire life. Any fellow VA Tech BC grads that might read this, it's a nostalgic walk through History of Architecture I and Mechanics of Deformable Bodies, plus some cool integrations of biomechanics and an intriguing philosophical chapter on aesthetics that brought me back to the volunteer design lectures I used to sit in on.
Luke Stephens
Jul 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Such a full on book, very dense.

After reading this book my appreciation for structures in our everyday life has been greatly increased.

Looking at the ever growing human crafted world this book feels like putting on glasses that could be the equivalent of thermal glasses compared to normal ones. You see the world in a whole new spectrum.

"It's not what you do that matters, it's how you do it."
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James Edward Gordon (UK, 1913–1998) was one of the founders of materials science and biomechanics, and a well-known author of three books on structures and materials, which have been translated in many languages and are still widely used in schools and universities.


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