The Idea Factory: Learning to Think at MIT
is the story of author Pepper White's life as a grad student
in Mechanical Engineering
at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
This book is about the changes that take place in engineers as they learn to think. It explores the conflicts that result when engineers must suppress (or at least put on the back burner) their human, social sides in order to survive in the objective world of science and engineering. --Pepper White, in the preface
"It doesn't really matter what you study here. We teach you to think. We make you into a professional. then you can do whatever you want." --Professor Mikic to Pepper White
Although it is actually a straightforward (and horribly depressing) diary of Pepper White's experiences at MIT, The Idea Factory somehow manages to be strangely inspiring (to this Caltech undergrad, anyway). White comes from a "well-rounded" liberal-arts background in environmental engineering, and gets admitted to MIT though a combination of luck and clerical screwups. He goes through the MIT experience--losing a friend to suicide, academic probation, dealing with demanding professors, scrambling for funding, endless problem sets and lab work, studying with some of the brightest people in the world, getting eventually kicked out with a master's degree--and he manages to come out alive, with his dreams and aspirations mostly intact, but having learned "how to think".
For anyone considering challenging themselves at a place like MIT, read this book and you will think hard about whether that is where your interests lie. (And hopefully decide that it is!)
For those already on that path, read this book to remind yourself why you choose it-to learn how to think.