Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Slide Rule - Nevil Shute

Slide Rule is the autobiography of Nevil Shute, aviation engineer and writer of adventure novels. He is also the one whose writings inspired Richard Bach to write (there, now you get it?).

I picked up the book for the tagline, 'Autobiography of an Engineer'. This book covers his life as an engineer and there is only minimal reference to his writing career. It is written in the same simple tone like his novels, without frills. He doesn't portray himself in an excessively positive way, nor does he deprecate himself. He tells it as it is, the way he lived his life.

Most of the book is devoted to the time he spent in R100 airship manufacture. The UK government decided to build an airship for passenger transport. Unable to decide whether it should be a private venture or public venture, the government asked a private firm Vickers and the government department to build an airship each. The idea was to have competition and let the best man win. Nevil Shute was heading the capitalist team that built R100 in 6 years and travelled to Canada and came back safely only with minor repairs. The Government built R101 set out to fly to India but never made it beyond France. The disaster made the Government to scrap the airship programme itself. Nevil Shute writes with equanimity that scraping the programme was probably good for the future of aviation. You have to admire a man who can write like this, after seeing his work of 6 years scrapped for a mistake of the competition.

For Nevil Shute working in aviation was more than a profession, it was his life. He find his work a religious experience. This is when, after a long laborious mathematical computation, using a slide rule, lasting two or three months a true solution to the forces in each transverse frame of the R100 could be guaranteed. He takes two pages to describe this in detail.

Later Nevil Shute set up his own company Airspeed Ltd to design aircrafts and was pretty successful too. His experiences in getting venture capital (yes, venture capitalists were there before IT too) makes interesting reading.

One word of advice, pick this book only if you are an engineer or some one interested in the history of early aviation.


Sudhir Parasuram (Lakkaraju) said...


I came across a mention of you being a Chennai Blogger (at Harish's Page) and hence am here now :)

Would you be interested in building a co-operative blogger page based on Chennai Bloggers ? If so, please leave comments on Chennai Online, (http://madrasonline.blogspot.com).

And, my apologies for hijacking this comment thread.



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