The Way Things Work Now

Book review by
Lucinda Dyer, Common Sense Media
The Way Things Work Now Book Poster Image
Captivating look at the things that power our world.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

There's something to learn on each and every page of The Way Things Work Now, from how gravity, nuclear fusion, toilet tanks, lasers, submarines, and 3D printers function to what's inside a smartphone and an old-fashioned self-winding watch. 

Positive Messages

Science -- even physics -- can be really, really fun.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The epilogue reveals the names behind many of the world's most essential inventions. Where would we be without Whitcomb Judson, inventor of the zipper, Karl von Linde, who created the first practical refrigerator, or Sir John Harington, godson of Queen Elizabeth I, who gave the world the first flush toilet?

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Way Things Work Now is the revised and updated edition of David Macaulay's The Way Things Work (1988) and The New Ways Things Work (1998), which have sold more than 2 million copies worldwide. Like in the previous versions, this one's brimming with Macaulay's witty, detailed, and colorful illustrations and is certain to captivate young readers who are passionate about all things technical and mechanical -- even those who live in dread of another year of science class. Kindle users should know that it's available only for Kindle Fire. David Macaulay is both a Caldecott Medal (Black and White) and Honor (Cathedral and Castle) winner.

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What's the story?

Macaulay divides the nonfiction THE WAY THINGS WORK NOW into five parts: "Mechanics of Movement," "Harnessing the Elements," "Working with Waves," "Electricity & Automation," and "The Digital Domain," a section new to this edition. The Digital Domain looks at a wide variety of things we take for granted in the 21st century, including touchscreens, games controllers, bits and bytes, robots, and virtual reality. The epilogue has very brief illustrated histories of inventions from gears and turbines to rockets, mirrors, and electric lights. And for those not fluent in all things mechanical, there's a section devoted to defining technical terms found in the book.

Is it any good?

This wildly imaginative and entertaining exploration of how things work makes the complicated world of machines and technology accessible to every reader. And it's filled with visual puns and delightful illustrations. For kids who find all things scientific intimidating or even just plain boring, Macaulay's witty and user-friendly explanations -- a woolly mammoth having its tusks trimmed is used to illustrate a section on levers -- make tricky theories easily understood.

For visual learners, the heavily illustrated text should be of particular help in processing the large and wide-ranging amount of information. Granted, this information can be found online but certainly not in a way as fun and engaging to readers. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how science has changed their lives. What things in The Way Things Work Now do you take for granted that weren't invented when your parents were your age?

  • Do you have a favorite movie or TV show with characters who are scientists?

  • What invention in Part 5 ("The Digital Domain") do you think has made life in the 21st century more interesting, more productive, or more fun?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love science and technology

Themes & Topics

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