The Way Things Work (c.1)

by David Macaulay

Hardcover, 1988



Local notes

603 Mac (c.1)




Houghton Mifflin (1988), Hardcover, 384 pages


Text and numerous detailed illustrations introduce and explain the scientific principles and workings of hundreds of machines including a lawn sprinkler, pneumatic drill, electric guitar, and a smoke detector.


Boston Globe–Horn Book Award (Winner — Nonfiction — 1989)
Kentucky Bluegrass Award (Nominee — Grades 4-8 — 1990)
Royal Society Trivedi Science Book Prize (Shortlist — Junior — 1989)


Original publication date


Physical description

384 p.; 10.9 inches

User reviews

LibraryThing member lorin77
The title says it-- this is a cool book about how things (mostly everyday items like seat belts but also more advanced things like nuclear energy) work. Macauley is an excellent illustrator and the woolly mammoth drawings are cute. I thought that some of the more difficult concepts were glossed
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over a little, which may be appropriate in a book aimed at kids. In general, I liked it.
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LibraryThing member qubex
This has always been, and always will be, one of my all-time favourite books. It’s definitely the children’s book I hold most dear.

I was the kind of child that takes everything apart to figure out how it works. Family mythology has it that my grandfather taught me how an internal combustion
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engine worked during a series of breakfasts while I was three or four, and there’s a drawing I made when I was no older than five that depicts a four-stroke internal combustion engine complete with pistons, crankshaft, valves, spark-plugs, exhaust manifold and cams.

This book’s visual style was right up my street. I remember my mother refusing to buy it for me but successively convincing my dad while on a day-trip to the London Science Museum. My copy still has his dedication inside the front cover and the receipt tucked in at the back.

I referred back to it authoritatively for years. Back in the days when internet access was not a given and some information was hard to come by, I actually used the illustration of a half adder to build a full binary adder out of discrete logic gates.

I cannot recommend it enough.
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LibraryThing member jbarr5
The Way Things Work by David McCauley
Many categories and many topics of discussion about how they really work.
The workings of machines and even such simple things as can openers.
Links how when one item was invented it led to many others. Not only educational but informative in a fun way.
Book should
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be a lot better with the pictures showing what is going on, where I just listened to this on tape the pictures are discussed.
I received this book from National Library Service for my BARD (Braille Audio Reading Device).
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LibraryThing member Harmless_Dilettante
I'm keeping it on hand just in case I'm ever trapped in a post apocalyptic sci fi movie and need to reconstruct modern technology from scratch. Until then, I'll just enjoy Macaulay's ability to work his drawings of wooly mammoths into every conceivable illustration.
LibraryThing member gra29
If you ever wanted to know how things work in simplistic terms this is the book. The pictures are hand drawn and most illustrations have a mammoth on the page.
LibraryThing member kwiens
An amazingly illustrated book with a Caldecott medal for black and white illustration. The author gives informative and a funny manner on how things work. From the remote to nuts and bolts every gadget and invention there is explanation for what they are and what they do.

I found this book to be
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very informative. Right down to the point this book can answer almost any question a child could think of.

I think this book would be great to read aloud once but then tell the children where to go and look for it as a reference tool.
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LibraryThing member themulhern
Always fun, and an impressive accomplishment.
LibraryThing member P.Vermeland
"The Way Things Work" is an amazingly well illustrated pice of work. It is a thorough and unbashfully detailed look at modern appliances and machines. I love it because it has amazing picture that make the text seem almost unnecessary. I would love to use this book in my classroom because of how
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much sheer information it contains. I would say that it is appropriate for grades 4 and up.
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LibraryThing member katieloucks
I loved skimming this as a kid!
LibraryThing member Pepperwings
Fantastic diagrams and other art detailing how things work, and are put together, and explanations you didn't know you needed to know. I love learning how things work, and this book has some great insights.
LibraryThing member deckla
Well-drawn descriptions of how the things we use without thinking are made. From elevators to nuclear fusion to thermostats to pulleys to paper making to printing to telescopes to televisions: the basics are here. An essential reference book. It's time for a sequel.
LibraryThing member CamillaBean14
This is a well illustrated book about the way that different machines and technologies work. I would use this with older grades, who have a better grasp at reading these types of texts. There are several inventions present in the story and I would have students make their own invention after
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reading it.
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LibraryThing member KamGeb
Thought I wanted to read this and kept it on my bookshelf for years and sometimes looked at one or two pages but could never get myself to read more than that at one time. Finally I gave up.
LibraryThing member mykl-s
A good book for kids. A good book for adults.




(184 ratings; 4.2)
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