Civil Engineering Reference Manual for the PE Exam 15th Edition by Michael R. Lindeburg
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Civil Engineering Reference Manual for the PE Exam 15th Edition by Michael R. Lindeburg

As I mentioned in the preface to the thirteenth edition, I am chagrined to admit that I never read a single preface while I was in college. Out of the prefaces of 100 or so textbooks written by witty, clever, dedicated, and famous experts, I never read a single word. Since then, I’ve added hundreds of additional books to my library, and I’ve only read a few of their prefaces. I certainly have never written to an author and said, “Hey, I loved your preface.” Nor have I ever received such a communication about any book that I have written.

So, why does a book even need a preface? The preface usually explains (a) why the author wanted to write the book, (b) why the book turned out the way it did, and (c) how the book differs from the previous edition. Whereas subsequent chapters after the preface constitute a book’s brain, the preface constitutes a book’s heart and soul. You don’t have to read its preface for a book to have utility.

The real “value” is in the subsequent chapters. However, if you want a special connection with the book, if you want to get inside the author’s head, if you want to feel what you are learning, you should start by reading its preface. New books are written for a variety of reasons; new editions less so. Typically, new editions are written to replace old editions that have become somehow inadequate. Although I’ve read some that come close, authors don’t intentionally write books to be inadequate when they are first published; instead, their books just evolve into obsolescence and inadequacy over time.

Now and then, however, the reason behind publishing a new edition is more complex. For example, sometimes a perfectly good book can become suddenly obsolete due to an external event. This book has had many “sudden” new editions (and this fourteenth edition is no exception), which were triggered by some change to the civil PE exam.

Typical exam changes that have required publishing a new edition of this book include revisions to the codes and standards on which the civil PE exam is based, as well as changes to the exam’s body of knowledge, format, administration, and emphasis on (i.e., number of questions for) each subject. Other times, new editions are driven by authors’ desire to add new material or to improve preexisting material.

Sometimes they’re driven by a need to incorporate accumulated corrections. Rarely, due to the huge amount of work involved, new editions are initiated when a publisher changes the methods or technology it uses for producing (typesetting, illustrating, etc.) its books. For example, decades ago, PPI brought out new editions when it stopped inking illustrations with Rapidograph pens and started rendering illustrations electronically. That hardly seems like big news these days.

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