Existential Pleasures of Engineering


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“Gracefully written . . . refreshing and highly infectious enthusiasm . . . imaginatively engineered.”
The New York Times Book Review

“A useful read for engineers given to self-scrutiny, and a stimulating one for the layman
interested in the ancient schism between machines and men’s souls.” ―Time

“An urbane, witty, intellectually far-ranging, large-spirited hymn to homo faber.” ―The Wall Street Journal

“Enchanting.” ―The New Yorker

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Synopsis:

Humans have always sought to change their environment–building houses, monuments, temples, and roads. In the process, they have remade the fabric of the world into newly functional objects that are also works of art to be admired. In this second edition of his popular Existential Pleasures of Engineering, Samuel Florman explores how engineers think and feel about their profession.

A deeply insightful and refreshingly unique text, this book corrects the myth that engineering is cold and passionless. Indeed, Florman celebrates engineering not only crucial and fundamental but also vital and alive; he views it as a response to some of our deepest impulses, an endeavor rich in spiritual and sensual rewards. Opposing the “anti-technology” stance, Florman gives readers a practical, creative, and even amusing philosophy of engineering that boasts of pride in his craft.

The essential engineering commentary of the century is now available as an e-book. (2)                       
About the Author:

Samuel C. Florman is an American civil engineer, general contractor and author. He is best known for his writings and speeches about engineering, technology and the general culture. The most widely distributed of his seven books is “‘The Existential Pleasures of Engineering'”, published in 1976, second edition in 1994. According to one authority, ‘It has become an often-referred-to modern classic.’ His most recently published book is Good Guys, Wiseguys and Putting Up Buildings: A Life in Construction, published in 2012. Florman is Chairman of Kreisler Borg Florman General Construction Company, Scarsdale, New York. In 1995 he was elected to the National Academy of Engineering “For literary contributions furthering engineering professionalism, ethics and liberal engineering education.”

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Excerpts from the book:

Of course I want engineers to be moral. I want young engineers, in particular, to be idealistic and to resolve to serve the public interest as they see it. But the main trouble with engineers has not been their lack of morality. It has been their failure to recognize that life is complex. For a century they put their faith, somewhat unthinkingly, in “efficiency” and “progress.” Now there is a danger that the same sort of mistake will be made with an abstraction called “social responsibility.” My warning is simply: Beware of slogans. (p. 27)

It is all very well for Aristotle to maintain that God is happy immersed in contemplation, because nothing else is worthy of Him. But we are human beings, not gods. Most of us are not constituted to become yogis. We take another look into the depths of our being, a clear, hard, earnest, passionate look. We recognize that we cannot survive on meditation, poems and sunsets. We are restless. We have an irresistible urge to dip our hands into the stuff of the earth and to do something with it. (p. 103)

Every engineer has experienced the comfort that comes with total absorption in a mechanical environment. The world becomes reduced and manageable, controlled and unchaotic. For a period of time, personal concerns, particularly petty concerns, are forgotten, as the mind becomes enchanted with the patterns of an orderly and circumscribed scene. This state of mind is scorned by many humanists, but in a way it is similar to the comfortable seclusion one feels when listening ‘ to a carefully constructed musical composition of the classical period, if such a state of mind comes to dominate ones life, then of course it can be said to be dehumanizing. But its absence from life deprives the individual of that “getting-out-of-himself’ which is an important part of the human adventure. Philosophers and religious thinkers are constantly talking about “losing oneself’ in the All, and then in the next breath of “finding oneself’ in some form of ecstasy. These emotional conditions are difficult to define verbally with any precision. But somewhere among the states of being sought by wise men falls that wondrous moment in which the engineer becomes absorbed with the machine. (p.137)

I suggest that our present state of anxiety and alienation comes not, as so many savants tell us, from our materialistic concerns, but largely from our attempt to escape the natural confines of human life. We suffer from seeking ineffable fulfillment in mystical realms to which we have no access — except through the material life our philosophers scorn. (p. 147)

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