Systems Engineering Reading List

04 Nov 2023 | One-minute read

One of my favorite topics is the behavior of medium sized systems. Medium sized systems are those that are too big for analytical techniques and too small for statistical techniques. There are lots of such systems.

The resources below are my favorites about systems and the subgenre of how they fail.

Grand Prize

How Complex Systems Fail - Cook

A set of 18 rules about systems. Cook is writing about the medical field but the lessons are broadly applicable.


An Introduction to General Systems Thinking - Weinberg

This book taught me that “medium sized” systems exist. It gave me a precise definition of Murphy’s Law and a multitude of other principles.

Normal Accidents - Perrow

Discusses how systems interact to create risks. There are two kinds interactions (complex and linear) and there are two kinds of coupling (tight and coupling). I think there are good parallels in software, such as error handling strategies.

Thinking in Systems - Meadows

Introduces the concept of flows and stocks. The most important ideas are in the first few chapters.


On Being the Right Size - Haldane

I came across this in part by trying to find the origin of the “incommensurate scaling law.” The essential idea is that working systems have just the right size across many dimensions.

Architecture of Complexity - Simon

Complexity is hierarchical. What I enjoyed most was the diverse set of examples.