How Things Work–A maker digs into a lifetime collection of clocks, locks, and more

Review by C.J. Bunce

Some people are fans of glow-in-the-dark things.  Other are fans of all things 3D.  Theodore Gray, author of a series of books on The ElementsMolecules, and Reactions (and builder of the wooden periodic table) has added another dive into familiar objects and how they got that way.  In How Things Work: The Inner Life of Everyday Machines, Gray reveals his fascination for all things transparent, as he rummages through a lifetime of collecting ordinary objects with a not-so-ordinary history.  Along his journey he provides the high points on how some of the most commonly used machines in your home work.  The book is available here at Amazon.

This is not a traditional science or engineering book.  In fact it’s more of a conversation between the author and the reader about how he got interested in paying attention to the objects humans use.  He explores the mechanical underpinnings specifically of clocks, locks, scales, and cloth, with special attention to those components that interested him the most.  The point?  Getting readers interested in discovering how the world around them works, how to make it work better, and how to improve their lives through their usage and improvements.

The best of Gray’s discussions are about his ideas as a maker, his memories of taking objects apart and putting them back together (or attempting to).  The book is more photography than text, and it’s less about how the objects are actually made, but more about how they work and how manufacturers and artisans have created them in so many variations over time.

Of those, most fascinating is Gray’s tracing the simple lock of the past into its current manifestation in the digital world as the cryptography of computing.

The result is a good read especially for grade school kids, as it prompts imagination and encourages learning.  If a reader is interested in an item or group of items discussed in the text, they can go off and learn even more about them after Gray’s more general introduction.

If you’re a fan of collecting things, especially transparent or see-through objects like the visible telephone (the author shows off dozens from his collection), this book may be for you.  From publisher Black Dog & Leventhal, available in a 256-page deluxe jacketed full-color hardcover edition with hundreds of photos, How Things Work: The Inner Life of Everyday Machines is available now here at Amazon.

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