Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Way We Work

The Way We Work: Getting to Know the Amazing Human Body by David Macaulay

If you remember "The Way Things Work", your brain probably conjures up sketches of wooly mammoths with catapults and cameras. The Way We Work has the same fantastic and creative artwork that explain a concept so well. The book goes through the biology of humans, explaining the digestive system, the nervous system, etc., and even cell and molecular biology. It's hard to believe this one book covers it all, but it does, at a reasonably sophisticated level.

I bought the book intending to gift it to a precocious child, but I quickly realized it wouldn't be appropriate because the vocabulary is too much. That's a shame, really, because anybody who can get through the jargon is more likely to need more depth of information, and be able to handle more sophisticated texts. I might use it as a general or basic reference for body systems (for example, where is the pancreas?), but then I also have an illustrated anatomy text, so maybe not.


  1. What are the drawings like? I think that's one of the most appealing things about any David Macaulay book—his incredibly detailed art. Would someone who wanted more depth of information still appreciate it for its illustrations? I did peek at it using Amazon's Look Inside This Book feature and didn't see anything terribly intricate, but maybe they don't show those pages.

  2. I'd say the illustrations are the most valuable part of the book. They're sketches (which you probably figured out from the inside examples) of mostly anatomy, and some cell interiors or molecules. Anatomy drawings are often peel-aways, or how parts would look partially disassembled. Some make the anatomy "larger than life" by making (for example) a foot take up the whole page, and placing it in a landscape with tiny people around it. Many illustrations liken the anatomy to something more mechanic, like the valves of the heart look a little like the pistons in a car engine, or the circulatory system is imagined as a roller coaster. I'll email you some scans, as I'm sure they're under copyright and shouldn't be posted publicly.