The New Way Things Work // by David Macauley


//published 1998//

This is one of those books that I’ve been reading off and on for literal months.  It’s a huge, bulky, heavy book, so I only read it if I’m going to be sitting for a while.  Luckily, it isn’t necessary to read this book cover to cover – and actually, after doing just that, I don’t even particularly recommend it!

Macauley has done a fabulous job taking some complicated things and explaining them in layman’s terms.  With the aid of his brilliant illustrations, Macauley works his way through simple machines, showing how complicated machines are actually several different types of simple ones linked together.  Thus, his book is divided by the mechanics behind a machine’s abilities, rather than by types of machines.  For example, wheelbarrows, pliers, nail clippers, and pry bars all make use of levers and consequently are found together.

Throughout the book, Macauley presents himself as a scientist who is living among a tribe of people who use woolly mammoths in their every-day lives.  At the beginning of each section, Macauley aids these people in working with their mammoths by teaching them a new principle of machines.  The illustrations are delightful and educational, especially for a visual learner like myself.

In some ways, though, I found myself thinking that this book would probably be better as a reference than as something you just sit down and read, as I was.  Because Macauley doesn’t go into a great amount of detail on any one thing, reading more than a few pages at a time could be overwhelming, which is part of the reason that it took me so long to work through the book.

The book is slightly dated.  Obviously the sections on inclined planes and zippers are still completely relevant, but the final section on “The Digital Domain” is bound to be out of date almost before it is published.  The original book was published in 1988, and this edition appeared in 1998, and it could use another refresh.  While I don’t think of any of the digital information is wrong, some of it may be a bit incomplete.

Still, it is definitely a book worth checking out.  Macauley combines entertainment and education quite well, and I came away with a lot more knowledge than at the beginning!