University of Strathclyde



A compulsory book reading coursework for all 1st year civil engineers. Each year, the freshers are required to read one book from four that have been selected by the tutor (see the attached document for the 24 books used since the 2009-10 session).

The books selected for reading are chosen on the basis that they provide knowledge about the history and heritage of civil engineering including biographical text and / or contemporary accounts of inspirational civil engineering projects.

A department book club was established to run in parallel with the coursework and throughout the academic session so as to encourage students to discuss their book reading with peers, and to provide a platform to invite book authors to the department.

Book Club meetings to date have been:

  • December 2014-Dr Ian Stewart, Alumni, and co-author of How to Read Bridges: A Crash Course Spanning the Centuries, visited the department on the 18th December 2014. Ian is a Chartered Engineer and an Associate at Blyth & Blyth. He has a BEng (Hons) Civil Engineering (2000) and a PhD in Structural Dynamics (2003)
  • March 2013- Forth Bridge: Restoring an Icon by Ann Glen, Craig Bowman, John Andrews, Kieran Dobbs, Lily Publications. Book Club meeting in the Hawes Inn, South Queensferry.
  • December 2011-Creation of the Bell Rock Lighthouse, Joint ICE Glasgow & West of Scotland Graduates & Student and Panel for Historic Engineering Works Meeting with Emeritus Professor (Heriot Watt) Roland Paxton reading from his book Dynasty of Engineers: the Stevensons & the Bell Rock, The Northern Lighthouse Heritage Trust
  • March 2011-Dr Ann Glen Reading from her book Airdrie-Bathgate Rail Link: Reconnecting Communities & Hugh Wark (Senior Project Engineer, Network Rail)
  • November 2010-A Celebration of Gustave Eiffel with guest author David Harvie, reading from his book, Eiffel, the Genius Who Reinvented Himself, The History Press Ltd
  • December 2009-Emeritus Professor Roland Paxton (Heriot Watt) & Vice Chairman ICE Panel of Historical Engineering Works (PHEW) attends Book Club meeting. Author of several books on civil engineering.


Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering 

Faculty of Engineering

Contact Details

Dr Michael Murray




This initiative contributes a 15% weighting to a 20 credit module (CL120 Construction & the Environment) as ‘assessment for learning’ (AfL) to support and promote learning (1).

As a means to help 1st year students develop an interest in their chosen subject the book reading coursework also emphasizes the responsibility of the learner in constructing knowledge. The book titles made available for selection are chosen in the belief that they will motivate and interest the students, ‘supporting them in the intellectual work necessary to come to terms with new ideas and information, rather than spoon-feeding them with knowledge which they passively absorb’ (2).

The book club was established to support the coursework through the facilitation of an informal environment whereby the students have an opportunity to discuss their book reading with peers / book authors. The principal objective is to help the students improve their oral communication and self-confidence skills.

(1) McDowell L (2014) Assessment for Learning, Chapter 6, In: Lynn Clouder, Christine Broughan, Steve Jewell and Graham Steventon (Edits) Improving student engagement and development through assessment, Special Indian Edition, India, Routledge, India, pp73-85

(2) Fairbairn, G.J and Fairbairn, S.A (2001) Reading at University: A Guide for Students, Maidenhead, Open University Press


The students complete a Likert questionnaire. Please see the attached documents for student feedback.

Likert questionnaire results based on 2012-2015 sessions (N=221)

193 (87%) students agreed / strongly agreed that the book they had read was inspirational.

187 (85%) students agreed / strongly agreed that reading their book helped confirm their intentions to become a civil engineer?

182(82%) agreed / strongly agreed that they would recommend their book to new 1st years starting the following year.

  • Throughout this book I found that I was constantly feeling inspired. I was given an insight into the history of civil engineering and was able to develop a further understanding of how these great people achieved super human feats. All of the engineers described in this book overcame many obstacles such as; political pressure, negative press, financial problems and all overcoming Mother Nature. They changed the world, whether it is by inspiring a nation, saving many thousands of lives or by altering the landscape for the rest of time. I hope that I too one day can take part in project that has such a massive impact on the world around me. (Seven Wonders of the Industrial World by Deborah Cadbury)
  • When reading this book his passion and enthusiasm has helped me feel inspired by great bridge designs and has only made me more certain that I made the correct course choice. Also since reading the book it has changed my perception of bridges completely, I would now describe most bridges as sculptures rather than only a means of crossing. (Bridges: Heroic Designs that Changed the World by Dan Cruickshanks)
  • I found the book interesting and it has enhanced my aspirations to become a civil engineer, to be a part of huge projects such of that of the Bell Rock. This book has inspired me further to become a civil engineer after seeing how proud it would be to have been a part of a project which has stood for two generations and is still functioning to its full potential. (Dynasty of Engineers: The Stevensons and the Bell Rock by Roland Paxton
  • I felt inspired to become a civil engineer. The book is very informative as it tells you a lot of things you do not know. It is an enjoyable book if you are truly interested in civil or structural engineering. (30 St Mary Axe: A Tower for London by Kenneth Powell)

Lessons Learnt

Each year, around 10% of the student cohort express a severe dislike for this coursework. Thankfully, for those who selected books that can inspire them, they are often surprised at how enjoyable reading can be.

Engineering students will tend to require a little bit of persuasion to take on board that the coursework can have a lasting legacy and is not simply an assessment to ‘get through’. For the small number of students each year that could be described as  ‘bookworms’, anecdotal evidence suggests that they reflect households where reading is considered a pleasurable pursuit.

Consider the word count in the books selected for reading. I have resisted including David McCullochs 612 page The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge as this may just be a bridge too far for some students!

Book club events seem to work best where some refreshments are on offer. The celebration of Gustave Eiffel with guest author David Harvie, reading from his book, Eiffel, the Genius Who Reinvented Himself, went down very well. We had French pastries / wine / music and a French colleague reading in his native tongue from another book about Eiffel.




Average class size circa (N=80). No scalability issues

Suggestions for Transferability

Common book reading initiatives are used at universities (particularly in the USA) around the world. Whilst this initiative differs in scope the aims are similar.

Module reading lists that contain ‘essential’ books that provide  students with prescriptive knowledge are unlikely to excite and inspire them to reflect on why they are learning. Providing students with an opportunity to read ‘around’ their chosen topic has the potential to encourage students to question and confront accepted theory and practice. Encouraging students to engage in more widespread reading will help promote a life long learning approach to their studies.


Reading For your Degree Webpage @

Attached Document : MM Book-Reading-Comments 2009-15

Attached Document: MM 1st year Book Reading 2012-15 Likert