Penn State

Albert E. Segall - associate professor of engineering science and mechanics, Penn State University Park

Book Title: Gulag Archipelago (Volumes I and II)

Author: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Book Description:

While many may be surprised at this choice coming from an engineer, the book that inspired me in a number of profound ways is the [Gulag Archipelago (Volumes I and II)], by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. First and foremost, the book is a stark and chilling reminder of man's continued inhumanity to man and the need for constant vigilance against any government form that believes it has the right to be the ultimate decider as judge, jury, and executioner. However, the [Gulag Archipelago] also serves to remind us how one person can struggle against such an unjust system and ultimately prevail. From an engineering perspective, the book also provides a stark example of how anyone (even an engineer) can play an important role in maintaining such a system. This reminder comes in a passage that describes Solzhenitsyn’s arrest and being restrained with handcuffs that were designed to painfully cut into the wrist with the slightest movement. Solzhenitsyn asked a question that still haunts me today, in wondering if the designer truly believed that the handcuffs would only be used against bad people who presumably deserved the pain they inflicted. Hence, while engineers may not be able to always foresee all of the possible usages of our work, we should always be cognizant of the potential misuse!

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