The New Way Things Work
by David Macaulay
Few authors can break down complex topics the way David Macaulay can. If you’re child responds to every answer with another “why?,” this is the book you want. The author updates his revolutionary The Way Things Work (also the basis for the PBS documentary of the same name), adding a fifth section, “The Digital Domain.” Just as Macaulay used an amused woolly mammoth to explain the ins and outs of concepts such as “The Mechanics of Movement” (inclined planes, pulleys, levers– I once heard the author speak to a group of 8th-graders to whom he admitted one of his favorite inventions is the lawn sprinkler, included in the “gears and belts” portion of this section), he uses pumpkins to explain the binary system and other rudiments of digital technology. The other three original chapters (explained courtesy of the mammoth) are: “Harnessing the Elements” (including floating, flying, and nuclear power), “Working With Waves” (which covers photography, papermaking, music, telephones and satellites), and “Electricity and Automation” (photocopiers, electric generators, X-rays and the like). Macaulay’s intricate drawings (he’s an architect by training) are as revealing—if not more so—than his text. This is a hefty, beautifully designed hardcover that’s great for gift-giving (and worth its weight in gold), and it’s far more accessible and engaging than any encyclopedia.