Engineering knowledge: Recommended reading from Fulton Schools faculty, staff

An upward view of a person holding a book open in between aisles of book shelving

Krishna Badrinath, an electrical engineering graduate student in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, part of ASU's Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, pages through a book in the Noble Library on ASU’s Tempe campus. Badrinath says he is drawn to science fiction thrillers and mysteries, especially those in which outer space, planets, blackholes, galaxies and extraterrestrial alien beings play major roles in the stories. Photo by Erika Gronek/ASU


In this 13th edition of the annual Essential Reading feature, 10 more faculty and staff members in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University join in carrying on the tradition of recommending books that can expand students’ personal horizons, enhance their education and provide guidance for living in productive and meaningful ways.

Their selections span across books offering lessons to be learned — from the challenges of space exploration, deadly pandemics, climate change and enduring life during wartime to advice on navigating personal hardships, or simply enjoying the intellectual thrill of following a brilliant detective on his intriguing adventures.

Portrait of Ashley M. Anderson
Ashley M. Anderson

“Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High”
By Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Al Switzler and Ron McMillan

Recommended by Ashley M. Anderson, Fulton Schools associate director, people and talent

“Crucial Conversations” is the book you didn’t know you needed. As you move through your chosen career field and life’s twists and turns, hard conversations are inevitable. This book walks you through how to have those difficult and challenging conversations and still manage to achieve a positive outcome. The authors teach you steps to mastering the art of managing a hard conversation, including managing your emotions, responding to the emotions of others, and how to move toward a path of action and results. I recommend this as a book you should keep on your bookshelf and refer to again and again. It will stand the test of time as a tool you can learn from throughout your life.

Mayra Artiles portrait
Mayra Artiles

“Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way To Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones”
By James Clear

Recommended by Mayra Artiles, assistant professor in the Polytechnic School

Imagine a book that provides you with all the strategies and insights to bulletproof your daily routine against anything that would prevent you from being the best and most efficient version of yourself possible. That is what “Atomic Habits” felt like to me when I first read it as a young engineering student. At the time, I felt as if I was being pulled in so many directions, both in school and in other areas of my life. I kept wondering how I could be even just one percent more efficient with my time so I would be able to achieve all my goals. In came James Clear and his straightforward advice that I could easily plug into my life. I began to see myself getting closer to living the way I wanted to live and achieving that goal. Check out his book this summer, which I think would be a great time to put some of the author’s enlightening and critical teachings into practice.

Daniel Aukes portrait
Daniel Aukes

"Project Hail Mary"
By Andy Weir

Recommended by Daniel Aukes, associate professor in the School of Manufacturing Systems and Networks

While on sabbatical this year, I had time to read more than usual. This book was among the most enjoyable. It chronicles one man’s journey to another star system to save the Earth. The author, who also wrote “The Martian,” uses that book’s same style of “problem-solving” science fiction. I connected with the main character and where he started from in the story — as a high school teacher plucked from obscurity to help unravel a science mystery and solve an avalanche of engineering challenges to bring Earth back from the brink of annihilation. We see how his love for science, his knowledge and use of the scientific method help him succeed. He gets to live every professor’s dream. Who wouldn’t love to use their life’s work to save the world?

A notable runner-up is the Sherlock Holmes series, which I read to my sons while traveling in England. There’s nothing like reading “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” in an old English manor or happening upon a statue of Sherlock Holmes after finishing “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle.” That was a special treat.

Portrait of Heather Clark
Heather A. Clark

“Hidden Potential: The Science of Achieving Greater Things”
By Adam Grant

Recommended by Heather A. Clark, professor and director of the School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering

Earlier this year, someone suggested I read this book, and fortunately I can now extend that recommendation to others. The central idea of Grant’s narrative revolves around how society tends to gauge the potential success of individuals based on their innate talents. The book’s author, however, contends that what we perceive as our talents might instead stem from advantages gained early in one’s life rather than on inherent abilities that enable us to achieve more than others. Along with familiar messages about self-improvement, resilience and character development, the book’s true gem lies in its encouragement to embrace new experiences without the fear of making mistakes. For instance, the author illustrates the rapid progress made in learning a new language by those who are unafraid to stumble, compared (with) others who are paralyzed by the fear of errors. I encourage everyone to embrace a little risk, accepting failure as a steppingstone toward excellence.

Portrait of Stephen King
Stephen Goodnick

“The Ministry for the Future"
By Kim Stanley Robinson

Recommended by Stephen Goodnick, professor in the School of Electrical Computer and Energy Engineering

Kim Stanley Robinson is a prolific science fiction writer who has authored books on future global-scale scenarios infused with both a technical and humanist perspective, his Mars trilogy being one of his better-known works. A theme of his recent books — “Forty Signs of Rain,” “Fifty Degrees Below” and “New York 2140” — addresses near- and long-term consequences of climate change and inequity, and how the various stakeholders respond to those consequences. His most recent book, “The Ministry for the Future,” is set in the near term starting with a catastrophic climate event — which came close to actually occurring recently — that consequently precipitates a series of events and responses over the next decades. It’s a fascinating read that considers various complex approaches to addressing climate change through innovations in technology, economics and politics. It also looks at the entrenched entities opposing change from the third-person perspective of a series of protagonists who intersect at various levels. Having worked in the renewable energy space for much of my career, the holistic societal approach to addressing a global-scale problem such as climate change, as portrayed in this book, resonates for me as realistic and thought provoking.

Portrait of Geralyn Lux
Geralyn Lux

“Start With Why"
By Simon Sinek

Recommended by Geralyn Lux, Fulton Schools associate director for business services

A well-known speaker and writer on business management, Sinek offers valuable insights into effective leadership, communication and personal development by focusing on the “why” rather than the “what” or “how” when examining our course of action. He provides practical advice on how to lead with authenticity, inspire others and create a sense of belonging among our colleagues and collaborators. Sinek contends that understanding the purpose behind what we do is essential for success, both personally and professionally. His reasoning will encourage you to consider what truly motivates you and how you can align your decisions and actions with your core values to achieve greater fulfillment and success.

Portrait of Kristin Olafs
Kristin Olafs

“All the Light We Cannot See"
By Anthony Doerr

Recommended by Kristín Olafs, Fulton Schools assistant director of special events

In this story set during World War II are lessons about friendship, perseverance, kindness, love, greed, brutality and survival. The tale focuses on Marie-Laure, a girl who becomes blind at age 6 and learns to navigate the world through her other senses. When France is occupied by Germany’s military forces, Marie’s family joins the French resistance. German soldier Werner Pfennig is a skilled radio operator forced into service to find radio operators in France so they can be killed, because radio broadcasting has been made illegal. Instead, Pfennig develops an unlikely kinship with Marie when he hears her reading stories on the shortwave radio. He does everything he can to protect Marie from being discovered. The novel provides insights into human connections and resilience in trying times, and into events during World War II, in a tale with an impact that can stay with you for a lifetime.

Portrait of Rong Pan
Rong Pan

“Elon Musk”
By Walter Isaacson

Recommended by Rong Pan, professor in the School of Computing and Augmented Intelligence

Isaacson’s book offers readers a riveting exploration into the life and mind of one of the most iconic figures in the realm of modern technology. The author says what makes Musk exceptional is his remarkable engineering intuition and dedication to first principle thinking. Throughout the story, Isaacson highlights Musk’s ability to break down complex problems into their fundamental truths, a skill honed through his engineering background and relentless pursuit of knowledge. Moreover, Isaacson delves into Musk’s unparalleled work ethic, revealing the long hours and tireless dedication he poured into his endeavors. Beyond its appeal as an outstanding story, “Elon Musk” may be especially valuable in inspiring readers to embrace challenges, think boldly and strive for greatness.

Portrait of Nick Rolston
Nick Rolston

A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts
By Andrew Chaikin

Recommended by Nick Rolston, assistant professor in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering

This is a tale of one of humanity’s greatest adventures, documenting the Apollo space missions through the eyes of astronauts and scientists who experienced these journeys to the moon. The book reads like a novel, vividly portraying the imagery and exhilaration of what it is like to leave the only place we’ve ever called home. It’s a story of incredible inspiration, innovation and teamwork and a testament to what we can accomplish when we are motivated and working together. That this was achieved when technology was so much less developed than today makes it all the more exciting. After all, we are in a time when we want to return to the moon — to stay and to ultimately reach Mars.

Portrait of Anthony Waas
Anthony Waas

“The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History”
By John M. Barry

Recommended by Anthony Waas, professor and director of the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy

This great read describes, among other related things, how a pandemic led four university deans to influence the development of medical schools in the U.S., a challenging endeavor that has resulted in the rigor and quality of education students get in many of today’s medical schools. At that time, the medical profession was more like a trade industry, lacking the rigorous education and training that medical professionals are experiencing today. Barry’s book weaves that story into a description of the work that was done to fight a major pandemic and save cities from continuing to experience large numbers of deaths. The story is grim at times and makes one realize that the people in our country in 1918 faced many more desperate situations than what we went through with the recent COVID pandemic.

Check out book recommendations from Essential Reading features of past years:


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