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The Way Things Work Now Hardcover – October 4, 2016
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From the Publisher
A Conversation with David Macaulay
Explainer-in-Chief David Macaulay talks about the ins and outs of updating his essential guide to the world of machines - The Way Things Work Now.
What was the most rewarding thing about doing this updated version of your now-classic book?
The opportunity not only to stay current, but to make improvements to the object itself. The first is a no-brainer, but the second is personal. Staying up-to-date meant adding devices that are now so familiar we take them for granted and in fact have become completely dependent on them. It’s actually fun to have at least a basic sense of how a touchscreen works, not to mention e-paper. One clue—it’s not paper.
The more personal reward came with the opportunity to create what I hope is a more visually attractive book. Replacing the two color images (required of the first edition to keep costs down) with full-color art meant that not only is the book brighter and I think more inviting but also it offers greater clarity. In many of the earlier spreads, pieces of text floated in a sea of white space, often seeming disconnected from the related art. It doesn’t help a reader trying to absorb new information if they aren’t quite sure about the order or combination in which it should be viewed.
It takes a team to create a work like this! Can you briefly describe how you all worked together?
This book was a group effort from the beginning. As with the original editions, the new one was produced simultaneously on both sides of the Atlantic. Research, writing, editing, and overall design happened in London. The pictures were developed and finally produced in my Vermont studio. I’m not a big fan of the distance, since it makes quick and more casual conversation possible between team members, even with Skype and FaceTime, etc., impossible. But since we weren’t developing a whole new project, these communication shortcuts probably made sense. It’s just not as much fun to work in isolation.
How has your process evolved over the years?
I think the answer is 'Backwards'. Each big book takes me longer than the one before, although the process hasn’t really changed much. Once I have my subject, I begin the research and stay with it until I run out of time. The original The Way Things Work was scheduled to be published in 1988. I joined the team in 1984 as the illustrator and spent the first two years trying to figure out how to avoid just making pictures of machines. It was during that time that I came up with the idea of an inventor’s notebook and the mammoth—an innocent victim of technology. Not only was I trying to put off the 'hard work' for as long as possible; I was hoping to find a way of introducing people to technology that was a little bit different and as unintimidating as possible. Because of the schedule, procrastination was severely limited. Now I can spend four years or more searching for just the right way of doing something before I finally have to do it. I ask more questions than I ever did and seem to have less confidence in my answers, so I ask them again. It’s a painful and pathetic process, and in the end, I can’t say that it actually produces a better book. So my process is perhaps devolving.
Why do we need this book if we can find pretty much all this information online?
If all you’re looking for is information, the Internet with all its content, hyperlinks, diverse media, and incredible speed is hard to beat. But The Way Things Work Now was created to be much more than just a catalog of information. It was intended as a friendly and reassuring introduction to the often complicated world of machines—a catalyst for curiosity with a reward on every page or two. The book had to be illuminating, engaging, and entertaining—these are not necessarily characteristics so highly valued online. It had to be straightforward but never simplistic. One of the great things about a book is that the limits are built in. It can only be so long, and then you run out of pages. This is a plus. For younger readers, it seems to contain everything they might ever need to know. For older readers who know there is so much more out there, it offers a sizable introduction and perhaps some direction.
What do you enjoy most about reading nonfiction?
Learning and being entertained at the same time. I love being introduced to new ideas and gaining new insights from knowledgeable writers who also know how to tell a story. I can find the facts online, but it’s the story that makes them stick.
You’ve created quite a number of books. Do you have a favorite?
I have several favorites. Angelo is my favorite 'picture book' because I finally created a couple of characters I really cared about. Cathedral is my favorite architecture book because I had no preconceived idea of what I was trying to do until I actually did it. Underground is my favorite 'subterranean' book because I couldn’t just go to the library and find other subterranean books that weren’t engineering texts. I had an opportunity to create a book that could show regular people, like me, what actually goes on down there. And Baaa is my favorite depressing book, mostly because I thought I was creating a work of fiction based on my own twisted view of life. Turns out it’s a work of nonfiction, and life actually is pretty twisted—once you get past the sheep.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a book about crossing the Atlantic, something my family and I did sixty years ago on a ship called the SS United States. It combines history and technology with biography and autobiography, all of which are described primarily through illustration—as usual.
From School Library Journal
Gr 6 Up—It's been 28 years since Macaulay's brilliant volume exploded on the scene and 12 since its last updating, and with the technological world quickly evolving, this incarnation is more than welcome. Covering everything from the simplest of machines to the modern microcompressor, Macaulay uses clever illustrations and a lucid (often amusing) text to explain the complex interrelationships of the mechanical world. But it is the illustrations that catch the eye. Yes, the woolly mammoths still galumph through the pages, demonstrating such principles as heat by radiating warmth while acting as a rotund clothes dryer. Small people also potter about, dancing to a record player (yes, still included), pulping wood, and tilting at windmills. Small flutters of angels appear, positioning camshafts and adjusting camera lenses. But these seemingly frivolous drawings focus readers' attention on the matter at hand. "Things," both in the real world and in this book, have changed. The writing is tighter. Color has burst into the illustrations, making the whole hefty tome appear lighter and brighter. Some elements have vanished: the elevator is gone; the escalator remains. Hybrid cars appear while the tape recorder has slipped away, as has the compact disc player. Sections on the computer and robots have been completely redone. A small note: Briticisms are back. The mechanical world is evolving at warp speed, and the solidly printed page cannot keep up. But that is no reason not to embrace this long-awaited update to one of the more original books ever printed. VERDICT A delightful choice for browsing and reference.—Patricia Manning, formerly at Eastchester Public Library, NY
San Francisco Chronicle Best of 2016
New York Times Bestseller
"... long-awaited update to one of the more original books ever printed."
—School Library Journal
* “Macaulay's brilliantly designed, engagingly informal diagrams and cutaways bring within the grasp of even casual viewers a greater understanding of the technological wonders of both past and present. Necessary for every library, personal or otherwise.”—Kirkus, starred review
Praise for The Way Things Work
“The Way Things Work is a superb achievement. It is a very handsome book, a fascinating collection of riddles and a sound educational accomplishment that, while explaining in words and pictures - mostly pictures - some of the mysteries of physics, makes you smile, and often laugh. The author is honest enough to say that the book was intended for children of all ages, and brilliant enough to make all its readers feel brighter than they ever thought they could be.”—The New York Times
“The Way Things Work is not the only book that has tried to explain modern mysteries, but it's the best. Macaulay's explanations are lucid; they are also fun. He includes visual puns, running jokes, a cast of thousands of tiny participants in on and around the machines, choirs of angels and lots of big woolly mammoths.”—Boston Globe
“Keep the book a secret from your kids for a while and study up on the explanations of questions you're anticipating. Let Macaulay make you look smarter than you think you are. The kids will certainly be impressed - and you'll be getting a real education in the bargain.”—The Los Angeles Times
“An astonishing tour-de-force by the architect-turned-author who has given us Cathedral and City.” —Kirkus
“This is a work of mammoth imagination, energy, and humor. It justifies every critic's belief that information and entertainment are not mutually exclusive - good nonfiction is storytelling at its best.” — The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, starred review
“Combining the tongue-in-cheek observations of a budding prehistoric engineer with acute descriptions of the functioning of mechanical and electrical machines, Macaulay has produced a superb volume.”—The Horn Book, starred review
“A book to be treasured as both a browsing item and as a gold mine of reference information.”—School Library Journal, starred review
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Top Customer Reviews
In the end, "The Way Things Work" is quite simply spectacular, packed with information about the world around us, funny, accessible, and inspiring. While there are one or two illustrations that aren't as clear as they should have been, and a minor error creeps up here and there, it's still a magnificent piece of work born out of true passion and skill. If you have a technically inclined young kid, chances are, you will not regret buying them this.
As for the updated 2016 edition: compared to the 1998 version, the changes are incremental but fairly substantial, with a treatment of e-paper displays, digital cameras, accelerometers, and so on. Some of this may make you nostalgic - say, a mechanically simpler optical mouse takes place of the rolling ball design - but overall, it's a much-needed and worthwhile reboot.
I loved David Macaulay growing up, his City and Castle are still on my bookshelf and it's amazing to see he's still going putting out new books with as much wit and charm as the ones I remember.
What's more amazing is how much my little girls love this book. Each night when I ask them to pick bedtime stories they pull down the 'Machine Book' and carry it to bed, even though it's a bit too heavy for them to carry! The tradition continues!