Makers

I find a my love of “Make” magazine a strange thing. I’ve only built one thing from the magazine and two from the website, yet I enjoy enormously the tales and instructions. I read the magazine and the RSS feed religiously. Perhaps it is that I am heartened that the day of the backyard tinkerer both having fun and doing serious work are not behind us. Perhaps I enjoy knowing there are other nerds out there.

It’s therefore no surprise that I enjoyed what must be O’Reilly’s first coffee table book – “Makers”. Subtitled “All Kinds of People Making Amazing Things In Garages, Basements, and Backyards” this marvelous hard cover volume covers a large range of projects from an incredibly diverse group of people.

The tales are amazing, from a 19 year old high school student (who looks five years younger) who took atmospheric samples with a kite and a plastic drinking cup all the way through to the electrical engineer in Virginia who spent a year and $1,000 building a nuclear fusor.

In between there is a good sampling of the home enthusiast, high school students, researchers and the downright kooky. There is a good mix of design hacks, electronics, engines, useful, strange and marvelously useless that really define the home tinkerer. Here are the tales of a bunch of people who just had to “scratch their own itch.”

Most of the stories are a two page spread with a picture or two showing the project and on the facing page the text. The pictures are good quality and a mix of the entertaining and informative. For each story you get the name, occupation and location of the maker along with the cost and an estimate of the time taken to build. For most you also get a URL where you can go for more information.

The book is attractive, well laid out and informative with only a few minor gripes in the quality of the editing – an example “You can instantly change the message at any point instantly by typing a new one and pressing Enter.” The paper stock is typical of a coffee table book, a high weight semi-gloss, and the design uses some good looking easily read fonts in a wide open layout. It looks and feels marvelous.

Finding a project is easy, the Contents page lists each of the 100 projects and their makers, and the back has an alphabetical index of the makers. O’Reilly have a page for the book though it gives little real detail, the Amazon page is more useful and informative. This is another gentle reminder for the people at O’Reilly that the usefulness of these PR pages has been dropping lately.

My one serious complaint is that the book is light on details for both the projects and the makers themselves. Since most have some sort of a website about their projects I was most upset by the lack of detail about the people – I’d have enjoyed knowing more about their process, history and motivations. As it is I am left wondering since most seem loathe to talk about themselves on their site. A good length interview with each would have improved the book enormously, though probably required shortening the list of projects. Personally, I would have preferred it. As it is we are left with a book that is indeed a coffee table book – just that little bit too superficial but attractive and probably worth buying nonetheless. I give it four stars because of the lack of depth, on every other criteria it is five. It is full of tales and inspiration.

O’Reilly’s biggest mistake was in the release date for this book. It was probably just a little too late to get into everyone’s Christmas list, but it may be just the thing for that last minute gift or to soak up the gift certificate from Aunt Margaret.

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