Books that Matter!


I often ask question in the “interviews” (I like the term “discussions” instead) to young professionals and students “which book did they follow during their studies”. In many cases, you will be surprised that the student does not even remember the title and author of the book! That’s terribly disappointing. I feel sorry.

Some students when answer, I feel that they could have followed some other book instead. And when I ask, do they possess the book as collection in their “library”, the answer is generally negative. Folks don’t buy books anymore. All Google or “manage” the e-copies of books which are not printed to read over a coffee. The concept of building a personal physical library now no more exists.

Books you follow (and keep following) set your pedigree. But lot depends further on who introduced the book to you and how was the book taught. You can judge the student by assessing what books were read and how passionately were the books followed in research and professional life. So books matter.

In this blog post, I would like to recall some of the books that influenced me in my student and professional life.

I recall Professor P Khanna, Head of the Centre for Environmental Science & Engg at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Bombay called me one evening and said “tomorrow morning onwards, you will start lectures on Environmental Microbiology. Prof Mrs Mahajan who is taking the course has fallen ill because of spondylitis”. While returning home that day, I was thinking “how do I handle this sudden requirement of teaching” and “which book should I use”. I picked up the book authored by Professors Anthony Gaudy and Elizabeth Gaudy in 1980 – Microbiology for environmental scientists and engineers (See  I had studied this book during my doctoral studies.


Professor Gaudy’s book turned out to be a hit. Not only the students enjoyed the book but I thought I understood Environmental Microbiology lot better than before. I recommend this book strongly as something very fundamental, with a blend of research & practice and so lucidly written. Prof Anthony and Elizabeth Gaudy taught in University of Delaware. A subsequent release in 2001 titled Elements of Bioenvironmental Engineering is also worth in the collection. It’s a hardcover from Oxford University Press Inc, USA. The chapter on quantitative description of growth is simply a masterpiece.

(Other great book on this topic is by Ross E. McKinney – Environmental Pollution Control Microbiology: A Fifty-Year Perspective. This book illustrates the application of fundamental concepts in microbiology to provide a sound basis for the design and operation of various biological systems used in solving environmental challenges in the air, water, and soil. I find the multi-media canvas of the book most fascinating and different from other books. See Worth a buy).

I remember that I was asked to teach undergraduate students of IIT, Bombay “Environmental Science & Engg” over 36 lectures. Earlier, there were three professors who co-taught this course splitting the course into compartments such as water pollution, air pollution and waste management. This was because these professors were specialized in these specific areas.

I realized that this way of “siloed” teaching is not going to lead to an integrated understanding of the students towards the “problem” and its “solution”. So I started looking for a book that could help me in this direction. The book I hit upon was Strategy of Pollution Control by Paul Mac Berthouex and Dale F. Rudd published in 1977. Prof Berthouex (Mac Bertho) is a civil engineer and his mentor Prof Rudd was a chemical engineer. A great combination.

Strategy of Pollution Control is one of my favourite books even today. It is not media specific and emphasizes that you need to know enough of ecology, microbiology, chemistry, separations and strategies to manage pollution in an integrated manner. The book is so differently written with a “case study” approach and has an inspirational and challenging set of questions at the end of each chapter. I found that the undergraduate students could “take on” this book pretty alright and really enjoyed. (We get at IIT the brightest students of India. So teaching with this book really put me on toes! To my relief, Mac Bertho was kind enough to send me set of solutions to the problems)

(I met Mac Bertho in London in 1986. In 1992, I invited him to work with me on a book on Air Pollution supported by UNESCO. He is an amazing Professor now retired from University of Wisconsin, Madison. We still are in touch. He recently updated the Strategy of Pollution Control with Professor Linfield Brown of Tufts University. See

Exposure to quantitative techniques and systems thinking are critical in environmental science and engineering. This area is weak in current courses on environmental engineering. Three of my favourite books in this domain are

Environmental systems optimization by Douglas A. Haith (see You can sense in this book typical Cornell touch)

Numerical Methods for Engineers by Steven C. Chapra and Raymond P. Canale (see An extremely well structured book for both Professors and students)


Statistics for Environmental Engineers, Second Edition by Linfield C. Brown, Paul Mac Berthouex (see Another great work from Mac Bertho

I taught a full course on Environmental Systems Optimization using Prof Haith’s book. The book, especially the solved problems, helped me in introducing systems thinking and expose the students to the optimization techniques.

Sometimes it is effective to refer to a set of “linked” books for a more complete understanding. Let me illustrate this point with an example on the subject of water quality management.  I was working on the Ganga Action Plan in India in 1984. I developed in those days water quality modelling software (captioned STREAM-I and STREAM-II) and conducted more than 10 training programs on water quality management in the country. In addition, I was teaching a course on water quality modelling at IIT, Bombay. So a lot was happening and I was looking for set of books that could best introduce the subject of water quality modelling and management to the students and professionals. These were books that I used at that time

  • Models for water quality management, McGraw-Hill series in water resources and environmental engineering, by Asit K. Biswas   (see This book presents fascinating case studies on water quality management. Kudos to Professor Biswas for managing such a collection. Later, I had the privilege to author with Professor Biswas a book on Environmental Impact Assessment)
  • Managing Water Quality: Economics, Technology, Institutions RFF Water Policy Set Series, RFF Press Series by Allen V. Kneese, Blair T. Bower (See The analysis in this classic study ranges from basic economic and political theory to engineering and institutional practices, and encompasses case studies in England, France, and West Germany, as well as in the Ohio, Potomac, and Delaware river basins in the United States. Originally published in 1968 and a real treat.

For those interested in the modelling per say, I recommend following three classics

Its worth that Professors introduce these books to the students as a “pack”

And then some of the landmark books we all follow and respect are

Finally, some books are “deep” and stand out but are not commonly read. One such book is  by Professor Holling –  Adaptive environmental assessment and management. This book develops an adaptive approach to environmental impact assessment and management in a systems perspective and ecology as the base. Professor Holling discusses how we can incorporate impact assessment studies with actual environmental planning and decision making.  (see  I highly recommend this book if you really want to “understand” the subject of impact assessment.


I remember I worked on a consulting assignment with ESSA Technologies, based in Vancouver, Canada that specializes in Impact Assessment and associated Modelling and Expert Systems. When I was in a discussion with colleagues at ESSA –  Tim Webb and Bob Everett – I could clearly sense the influence of the book Adaptive environmental assessment and management.  “Are you by any chance students of Professor Holling?”    I asked. “Yes very much” they said this with such a pride. I then realized how influential the books are in life and how great are the professors who wrote such masterpieces.

My resolution for 2015 is to do a modest effort of writing one such a kind of book.  And I do hope this actually happens!


  1. Dear Professor Prasad,

    Wish you a Happy New Year 2015
    I agree with you.
    Books may or may not matter but the matter ( in the brain) matters, and you have that.. Many ( including me ) have read some of the books that you have mentioned, But how many have really followed? A very few ( that includes me). In my view, the liking for the subject is important.
    In my case, I must have all the papers written by Professor Lotfi Zadeh, the father of fuzzy logic and the highest cited scientist in the world as on today; tried to understood the mats part with applications, Have been applying the concept ,not only in environment, but in many other areas of science and technology.
    As I am not a hardcore microbiologist nor a chemist, and while in NEERI, I did not venture to study these subjects in depth for the obvious reasons. Mathematical topics interest me more as in engineering we are taught sufficient maths. Started learning fuzzy maths in early 80′ and was brutally criticized. Now there are better young scholars who got into it and do much better than what I could do. Yes, Professor Purushottam Khanna was a visionary scholar and encouraged my madness. Fuzzy X means the generalisation of X. Fuzzy logic is not fuzzy. In fact, it is the precise logic of imprecision and approximate reasoning.
    I wish you all the success in your plan of writing a book and I will be your first student to read that boo, I am confident that your book will be excellent.
    Erudite comment are welcome.
    Ashok Deshpande

    1. Dear Ashok

      Many thanks for sharing your thoughts. Indeed, you have been fortunate to associate with personalities like Professor Zadeh.

      I often dream of holding a large gathering of students and get some of the towering personalities in the field of environmental management. A “darshan” of these professors with their visionary books could be so inspiring!



    1. You are absolutely right Professor Chawathe. A name to add to the two giants (Feyer and Geyer or F&G) is Daniel Okun, Kenan Professor of Environmental Engineering at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill..The F&G Book was updated by Professor Okun. Okun was a student of Professor Geyer.

      Prof Okun’s mention takes me to some memories.

      In 1981, I wrote two pages of my ideas on design of water distribution networks to Professor Okun not expecting any response. The pages were typed on an electronic typewriter outside VT station and airmailed.

      I received a page response of appreciation from Professor Okun then almost promptly – offering a full scholarship at University of North Carollna at Chapel Hill for doctoral research with him. He did not wait for formal application and scores of GRE.

      Prof Okun died of leukaemia in 2007 at the age of 90.

      Regards. .

  2. Prasad,

    I have been closely following all your blogs.Most of them were read within half an hour of receiving them.

    I find them very lucid, informative and entertaining.

    Thanks for taking efforts in sharing your rich experience of last 30 years.

    Pl continue the great job you are doing for your friends and colleagues.

    Wishing you and family A HAPPY AND HEALTHY YEAR 2015 and look forward to read your blogs regularly.

  3. Revered Prof. Modak,
    Wish U and Ur family a very peaceful,happy, healthy and eco-friendly New Year 2015.
    I had the pleasure of being ur student at CESE during 1986-88. I enjoy reading your blogs. You have correctly pointed out that most of the students today do not read textbooks seriously. Therefore, I would request you to put your vast knowledge and experience in Audio-Visual mode for the benefit of the students, researchers, teachers,consultants and posterity.

    1. Dear Prakash

      Thanks much for remembering our CESE days. I am working on an e-learning wesbite already. Do visit You would see here a course on Biodiversity Impact Assessment that we are running in partnership with Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS). Its 6 weeks e-learning course with 2 weeks of field work – i.e. a blended design. Some 16 students have already registered across the country.


  4. Dear Prof. Prasad Modak,
    Wish you healthy, prosperous and happy new year 2015.
    Your well written article (as usual!) took me down memory lane. When I was doing ME in VJTI, we read the book by Feyer, Geyer, Okun which was my first ME book purchase from Union Book Stall, Dadar. The compact content of the book gave us huge knowledge. We also referred and liked the book by Metcalf & Eddy. The book by Qasim was very much useful in the Hydraulic Design of Wastewater Treatment plants. This book is rarely available now and referred it in the Central Library of IIT Bombay. Civil Engineers find the subject of Chemistry tough. But Environmental Chemistry by Sawyer & McKarty helped us a lot. Then for Air Pollution, we referred books by Henry Perkins and another book by Wark & Warner (This book was favorite of our Prof. Mrs. Chapekar in VJTI). I remember in IITB you were very much fond of Numerical Methods by Chapra. Manuals by CPHEEO (Govt. of India) for Water and Sewage are also very useful. I also liked the book by Prof. Bhole on the Design of Water Treatment Plant published by IWWA. I extensively used some of these books in the development of software for design of water treatment plant, effluent treatment plant, sewerage system, water distribution network etc.
    Best of luck to you in your book mission!

    Dr. Milind Kulkarni

  5. I did my graduation from Sangli. Books we used to follow were written by Indian authors. Looking back, I realize that these were/are professional authors who can write book on any subject. Even for college library, budget and space were constraints. While during M Tech days, I had excellent opportunity of referring to quality publications, somehow, I failed to make best use of it. I am accepting my mistakes, hoping students who read the blog will not repeat the same.
    Now that most of us can afford to purchase books and maintain personal library (and books include not only those relevant to environmental profession which directly gives us bread and butter), we must introspect on our own “budget” for books. I am afraid if number of customers for printed material goes down, some day we will not have “library”.

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