Ten reasons why engineers should read more fiction.

Number five – Emotional Intelligence

Every engineer knows that we learn more from our mistakes than when things go right.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand, use, and manage your own emotions in positive ways. You must understand yourself before you can hope to understand and be empathetic towards others.

But too much empathy can be paralysing. Concern for the feelings of others can hinder much needed change. There’s a time for emotional empathy, and a time for more rational, emotion-free decision making. Emotionally intelligent people appreciate the limits of empathy, putting it to use when the situation calls for it.

How to do engineers develop emotional intelligence?

Through fiction, we observe characters driven to extremes as they give in to impulse or miss opportunities, lose their temper or fail to speak up, fight for what they believe in or acquiesce to those in power, buckle, betray, disappoint, cheat and lie.

Characters in fiction get things wrong, often spectacularly wrong, so we don’t have to.

My recommendation – The Starlings of Bucharest Sarah Armstrong

Set in1970’s Europe, at the height of the Cold War, Ted moves to London to get away from the working-class fishing community he was born into. Hoping to train as a journalist, he moves to London and slides into debt. Things look up when he is given an opportunity to travel east.

But others are watching him. And listening.

The threats people hold over us are most often imagined. We even create them for ourselves.

There has never been a better book on the art of listening, a masterclass in the art of manipulation.


Why should engineers should read more fiction?

3 – Travel (intercontinental)

For most of us, the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions stopped or severely curtailed all travel, especially international travel.

The joy of fiction is that it transports us to new places without ever leaving the comfort of our own armchair/bath/bed – wherever you do your most relaxed reading.

Of course, I can pick out snippets of useful information from travel guides, scour articles for the do’s and don’ts of business etiquette in other countries, or dip into non-fiction travelogues, but for me, a good story will always stay longer than bare facts.

Make me care and I’ll come along for the whole journey, good and bad.

My recommendation: Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

It took me a long time and most of the world to learn what I know about love and fate …but the heart of it came to me in an instant, while I was chained to a wall and being tortured.

In the early 80s, Gregory David Roberts, an armed robber and heroin addict, escaped from an Australian prison to India, where he lived in a Bombay slum.

Continue to number four – Travel (temporal)

The full list of 10 recommended books (and a few extras) is available here

Fiona Erskine is a professional engineer and the author of Jaq Silver thrillers The Chemical DetectiveThe Chemical ReactionThe Chemical Cocktail and genre defying Phosphate Rocks: A death in Ten Objects.



Why should engineers read more fiction?

1 – Empathy

Fiction enables you to walk through your world in someone else’s shoes. The finest writers of contemporary fiction hook you, reel you in and place you firmly inside the head of one or more of their characters. You see what they see, hear what they hear, touch and smell and taste what they sense, and experience everything that they feel. Does it help you to see familiar things in a new light?

Joe South wrote a song in 1970, made famous by Elvis Presley

Before you abuse, criticize and accuse
Then walk a mile in my shoes

If empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person then fiction is a great way to do that without a full brain transplant.

All in comfy shoes.

My recommendation: Try Leonard and Hungry Paul by Ronan Hession and see if it doesn’t change the way you think about someone you know.

The uplifting story of friendship between quiet men, a story suffused with gentleness and kindness.

“As sometimes happens with boys who prefer games to sports, Leonard had few friends but lots of ideas.”

What novel would you recommend ?

Continue to number two – Gender Balance.

The full list of 10 recommended books (and a few extras) is available here

Fiona Erskine is a professional engineer and the author of Jaq Silver thrillers The Chemical Detective, The Chemical Reaction, The Chemical Cocktail and genre defying Phosphate Rocks: A death in Ten Objects.