Make Electronics: Learning By Discovery Book Review
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Do you know someone who needs an introduction to electronics? O'Reilly's Make: Electronics, written by Charles Platt, offers readers a series of hands-on lessons that illustrate the basic concepts. It's the perfect book for the person who has never tinkered with electronic components before.
You can find the book's guiding principle right on the cover, sitting above the title: “Burn things out, mess things up – that's how you learn.” In just the first few experiments, you will deliberately blow a fuse, fry a battery, and burn an LED. This seemingly pointless destruction teaches budding scientists about electricity in ways that make the lessons stick.
The 330-page book is divided into five sections with experiments. It also includes an index and an appendix with a list of online retail sources and manufacturers, to help you get all the supplies for your experiments and later pursuits if you choose to continue the hobby. You can also visit the Make Store website for components kits for the first 11 experiments and experiments 12 through 24. You'll find a total of 36 experiments, with the later ones building on concepts established in the earlier ones.
In keeping with the author's philosophy of learning by doing, he'll often set you up to perform the experiment first, and give a deeper explanation of the theory behind it after you've seen the result. Fortunately, given the destructive nature of a few of the experiments, he always tell you enough to be safe.
For example, for experiment 2, “Let's abuse a battery,” the author warns you of the hazards even before he gives you the list of materials for the experiment. And it's not just a vague warning either: you learn never to short a power outlet in your home or a car battery, and why; never to short a lithium or rechargeable battery, and why; and to wear safety goggles just in case the 1.5 volt AA battery you'll be shorting out is defective.
Several more examples that illustrate the importance of safety come up later in the book, from the author's own experience. When explaining the right way to strip insulation from a wire, Platt notes that “Macho hardware nerds may use their teeth to strip insulation from wires. I used to do this. I have two slightly chipped teeth to prove it. Really, it's better to use the right tool for the job.” Later, when explaining the basics of capacitors, Platt shows a burned-up breadboard as an illustration of what can happen if you connect a capacitor the wrong way around to a power source that can deliver a lot of current.
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