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Read Novels to Become an Engineer

“Read novels to become an engineer”. With this effective and eye-catching headline La Stampa of January 10th summed up recent decisions by prestigious US universities, Harvard and Princeton, Stanford and Yale, to introduce literature courses for students of economics, engineering, medicine and various science subjects. A re-evaluation of literature therefore in order to gain a slightly better understanding of people, different civilisations and the world. An encouragement to seek out new fusions of the humanities and science. If it is true, as Mallarmé claimed, that “everything in the world exists in order to end up as a book”, then we have to learn to view good literature more carefully and with greater respect, also in order to manage a company, carry out a research project and construct new economic and scientific theories, at a time when original ways of coming through the major economic crisis are being tried out. The decision is an important one for the very reason that it comes from the USA, a country attracted by tendencies towards sector hyper-specialisation. This endorses the quality of European culture, accustomed to complexity, and of its actual corporate culture, more inclined to adapt creatively to the twists and turns of different environments compared to the rigid determination and dominion of the cultures in English-speaking countries. Moreover the Politecnico of Milan and that of Turin as well as France’s grandes écoles have for some time also included philosophy, writing and drama in the curriculum, alongside specialist engineering subjects. Technologies and relationships, Galileo’s telescope and his reflections on the meaning of a changing world, atomic energy and its moral implications, the developments of the Web and the consequences for the spreading of culture, participation or solitude, the stepping-up of business or the possible slowing-down of the awareness of reconciling interests and values, the salt of a good democracy. Paolo Bertinetti concludes by saying in La Stampa: “literature is useful in doing things that have nothing to do with literature well. We can add however that it is useful in itself, not only for learning how to write sentences correctly but also to learn to get to know human beings and the world. Literature is communication of experience. Those who teach literature, teaching how to read that which may have remained unknown, help literature to apply its profound meaning”.