Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The New Way things Work

The New Way things Work

David Macaulay , Neil Ardley
For ages 12 and up
Houghton Mifflin, 1998   ISBN: 978-0395938478

Many of us take the machines we use every day, the machines we depend on, for granted. We need them, we use them, and yet we really have no idea how they work, nor do we understand the principals that make it possible for them to work. We believe that these principals are too complicated to understand, and why do we need to know about them anyway?

   The amazing thing about knowledge is that it allows us to appreciate the world more fully. What many people don’t know is that you don’t have to be a scientist or scientifically minded to be able to understand the principals that lie at the heart of many machines and devices.

   In this remarkable book, which has been in print for decades now, David Macaulay combines easy-to-understand, clever, and often amusing sections of text with his remarkable drawings. Some of these drawings (in particular those that include his mammoths) are amusing, while others are more technical and include labels and annotated notes to help us understand them.

   For each principal the author tells us a little story, the main characters in the story being mammoths and humans. The stories are told in the first person and they fictionalize how the principals of movement and motion, the properties of elements, wave theory, and the properties of electricity were discovered. The stories are delightfully funny, and they also help readers to understand the principals being discussed. The stories are followed by a simple description and then the author provides readers with examples of how the principal is put to use in our world.

   For example, in the first section of the book, “The Mechanics of Movement,” we learn about screws. We read about how a clever mammoth was able to rescue a princess who was being kept captive in a tower. The mammoth twisted the round tower like a screw until it was low enough in the ground that the princess could be rescued. Next a more technical description appears which is then followed by examples of “The Screw at work.” Naturally we see how a screw or bolt can be turned to secure something, but we also see how a vice, a corkscrew, a faucet, drills, augers, and even a combine harvester use the same principal to work.

   In each section we see how a simple principal makes it possible for simple tools - and also complicated machines - to work. Readers will often be surprised when they discover which principal is behind a machine that they use regularly. For example, in the section that looks at heat (and how it is used) we learn about jet engines.

   So many fascinating subjects are explored in this book, and many readers will be delighted when questions they have wondered about are answered. Readers who have wondered “How does the Internet work?” and “How do lights work?” will soon find the answers they seek on the pages of this book.

   At the back of the book readers will find further information about the machines, tools and devices mentioned in the narrative.