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The Way Things Work

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From levers to lasers, from cameras to computers, this volume is a remarkable overview of the machines and inventions that shape our lives, amusingly presented with a large dose of Macaulay's wit and personality. Full-color illustrations.

384 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 1988

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About the author

David Macaulay

68 books316 followers
David Macaulay, born in 1946, was eleven when his parents moved from England to Bloomfield, New Jersey. He found himself having to adjust from an idyllic English childhood to life in a fast paced American city. During this time he began to draw seriously, and after graduating from high school he enrolled in the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). After spending his fifth year at RISD in Rome on the European Honors Program, he received a bachelor’s degree in architecture and vowed never to practice. After working as an interior designer, a junior high school teacher, and a teacher at RISD, Macaulay began to experiment with creating books. He published his first book, Cathedral, in 1973. Following in this tradition, Macaulay created other books—including City, Castle, Pyramid, Mill, Underground, Unbuilding, and Mosque—that have provided the explanations of the how and the why in a way that is both accessible and entertaining. From the pyramids of Egypt to the skyscrapers of New York City, the human race’s great architectural and engineering accomplishments have been demystified through Macaulay's elaborate show-and-tells. Five of these titles have been made into popular PBS television programs.

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5 stars
1,383 (52%)
4 stars
885 (33%)
3 stars
331 (12%)
2 stars
43 (1%)
1 star
9 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 124 reviews
Profile Image for Steven.
27 reviews3 followers
May 11, 2007
This book taught me more about technology than my first five years of school, and that isn't intended as a criticism of the public educational system. I'm betting my dad got tired of the perpetual, "Why?" and "How?"'s, and decided this book would be the best way to simultaneously teach me and maintain his sanity.

Where else can a child be taught to understand the simple machines, fission, and how to pick a lock?
Profile Image for Baal Of.
1,196 reviews39 followers
April 4, 2020
A fun and informative presentation of exactly what the title says. The illustrations are well-done, and the touches of humor with the mammoths is engaging and cute. I grabbed this book from one of my friends who was trying to clear out some shelves, and now I intend to pass this on to someone else who might enjoy it. I think it would be of interest to precocious kids of preteen through early teenage years, maybe as young as 6 or 7. I know I would have loved it when I was in early grade school. I like how it was organized starting with the simple machines, and building on the physical principles. It is definitely dated, with inclusions of dot matrix printers, typewriters, floppy discs, and discussion of megabytes of storage, but the vast majority of the machines are still relevant today, and the underlying physical principle are of course important.
Profile Image for Mckay chandler.
13 reviews
February 10, 2009
the mammoths in this book are very funny. this appears to be a engineering textbook,(it probably is,) but IF it is, than it's a heckuva lot better then the stuff they feed us in science textbooks these days... don't read it till your OUT of stuff to read or you'll think this is actually a novel (trust me, on this one, it's not)
Profile Image for Philip of Macedon.
255 reviews59 followers
June 22, 2020
This is such a cool book. My parents had it when I was a kid and I read it over and over again, and even after having read it a handful of times I returned to it often to page through it and look at the pictures. My parents even donated a half dozen or so copies of this book to my 4th or 5th grade classroom, or maybe it was to our school library. I can't remember, I just remember them doing this and the teachers loving them for it. I have to assume many students have received a boost in their education from this book, hopefully discovering the magic of knowledge even when formal education doesn't do it for them.

For a child or even an adult, this is a stimulating visual guide to understanding the mechanics behind many modern pieces of technology. It's now almost 30 years since I first read it or looked at it, but I have a copy now that I was lucky enough to find in a book store a few years ago, identical to the one I first read. Some of the technology is no longer as common, but the visuals and explanations have not been dated in the slightest. I've seen updated versions of this book and will probably get them one day.

Every elementary school should be stocked with at least one copy of this book.
Profile Image for Harry.
428 reviews2 followers
January 30, 2022
Macaulay does a masterful job of providing concise explanations of "The Way Things Work" through simple prose and clear, witty illustrations. I love the use of mammoths to give comic relief to what otherwise might be a boring textbook. Sometimes the needed complexity can be a little hard to fathom, but it becomes clear with careful reading. Now, 30+ years after it was written, the technology described has become a bit outdated, but it is still a worthwhile reference. Great gift for budding scientists.
Profile Image for Remo.
2,279 reviews128 followers
July 12, 2020
Recuerdo este libro como una auténtica maravilla que te permitía empezar a explorar cualquier cosa. Cualquier cosa compleja, grande y complicada la tenías despiezada delante de tus ojos para empezara a averiguar sus partes componentes y a adivinar las relaciones entre ellas. Por un lado era apabullante la cantidad de cosas que tenía dentro un carburador o un aire acondicionado, y por otro era como los capítulos de Scooby Doo, que te enseñaban que al final la magia no existe y que siempre hay una manera racional de explicar las cosas. Aunque algunas de las explicaciones no las entendía (recuerdo perfectamente mirar al magnetoscopio para enterarme más tarde de que era un vídeo), sí servía como puerta para investigar más sobre cualquier tema, pues te daba un montón de vocabulario relacionado. Eso era mucho antes de Internet, por lo que se agradecía bastante el tener más palabras que buscar en la enciclopedia.
Profile Image for Beeba.
14 reviews
May 24, 2018
Absolutely love this book! An all-time favourite! The illustrations and the mammoths in the book make it quite interesting and fun, not only for children, but for grown-ups too. Books like these make learning so much fun!
9 reviews
September 23, 2021
This book has taught me more than anything I have learned in school. The way he explains things so eloquently is incredible. David Macaulay is able to teach about almost every topic you can think of, and he can do it in one page with pictures. The words are powerful but simple, and he is able to make complicated topics fathomable through his language. The best part is that I do not have to look somewhere else for background information on the topics that he discusses, because he lays out basics before moving to the hard topics. A great example of his work is, "A pump (see p. 124) forces oil up from the sump through the oil filter, which removes dirt particles and then to all the bearings and other parts of the engine. (Macaulay 88). Macaulay is able to pass information so easily, and then he will show tell you where to find the definition of a word he used, later or earlier in the book. I learned so much from this book it is amazing. This is one of my favorite books all time because it was able to keep me interested and it didn't even feel like homework.
Profile Image for James.
386 reviews8 followers
March 27, 2021
I expected something better. Macaulay's illustrations are well crafted and occasionally humorous, but the accompanying text is sometimes excessively complex or jargon laden. I'm not really sure who his intended audience is, and that may be the problem. I expect something like this to appeal to a tween to YA looking for inspiration about how the engineered world works, or I expect it to appeal to an adult who appreciates a youthful approach.
Within the first few pages I immediately felt that the audience was adult or technically knowledgeable already. If this took a child's eye approach in the text and was more carefully written to be that, I think I would have enjoyed this more.
Nonetheless, it was enjoyable; I did learn a few things, but it just wasn't excellent enough to rate as a classic that it seems purported to be.
Profile Image for Kirsten.
490 reviews
December 26, 2018
It took me eight months to read this book, not because it wasn't interesting, but because it was very interesting to me. I spent a long time poring over some of the drawings making sure I really understood how and why the item worked the way it did, and since the book covers about 200 different machines, it took a while. I'd read bits and pieces of it back in grade school when we covered simple machines in science class, but I'd never read it start to finish. A few of the machines are dated since this book is 30 years old, but most stuff is still very applicable. The running joke with the mammoth experiments is also a nice touch.
Profile Image for Tý.
27 reviews1 follower
September 5, 2019
Great idea for a book, not-up-to-expectation execution. Even my science-savvy 12 years old sister couldn't pay attention for more than 10 minutes into the book. Apart from the very much lively illustration (which is the best thing about the book), it didn't teach the children much about anything nor being thought-provoking. Trying not to be rude but I wish brilliant.org had written this book.

However, this could be a great gift for children. I rmb seeing my sister's eyes glowing receiving this book. Priceless!
15 reviews1 follower
May 15, 2018
This is a fun way to better understand how things work around us. I teach technology education and so many of the concepts that I teach are found in this book, but are presented in a playful way that makes even the abstinent reader curious about how the technology works. The book is well researched. I recently discovered it and look forward to reading the more current version The way things work now.
Profile Image for Stacy Houghton.
50 reviews
April 28, 2019
In the Way Things Work, Macaulay depicts many machines and tools and gives explanations of how they work and how to use them. It is separated into sections of movement, elements, light and sound waves, and electricity and automation. I give this five stars because it is a very simple starter book for children, and even adults.
20 reviews
May 7, 2021
This is the classic start of David Macaulay's award-winning series of books for children of all ages. It is full of wonderful line drawings to explain things. It also is written in a humorous way with jokes and funny little figures in among the information. The explanations are easy to follow and easy to read.
9 reviews
October 8, 2018
So this review may be 11 years late, but this book is the reason I became an engineer. And I credit it for much of my early development. If you want your kid to grow up with a scientific curiosity, just leave this lying around the house for them to accidentally pick up
Profile Image for Joe D'Alesio.
39 reviews
March 19, 2018
The way this book works: you read it, your brother then takes it from you, you forget how submarines work and can’t impress any of your friends with all that submarine knowledge you thought you knew.
Profile Image for David.
39 reviews
May 7, 2018
읽지 않은 어린이, 발명과 특허를 논하지 말라.
12 reviews1 follower
October 1, 2018
Một cách tiếp cận khoa học mới mẻ và thú vị thông qua cách kể chuyện sáng tạo và hài hước, tương đối dễ hiểu kể cả những người không chuyên về máy móc kỹ thuật
Profile Image for Lara.
51 reviews
December 8, 2018
If the explanations don’t do it for you, the illustrations will. The funniest reference book on my shelf.
23 reviews
May 16, 2019
Beautiful. Well done. Educational. Also, kids laugh about the cartoon mammoths. This book has it all.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 124 reviews

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