While we are gearing up for our launch in the fall, we at The League of Young Inventors are sharing some of our favorite resources on invention and inventive thinking. Today, we give a huge shout-out to David Macaulay, one of the best explainers on the planet.


The Way Things Work: Inventions Galore

Macaulay is probably most well-known for his book, The Way Things Work. This is a book that does exactly what it says, in an entertaining way, using wooly mammoths as intrepid guides to the world of inventions. He starts with the simple machines and works his way to computing and digital systems, explaining simply and briefly how each thing does its job.You can find just about anything in this book, from basic lever mechanics to how a movie camera works to the way a flash card stores information.

Macaulay organizes the book into different categories, making it easy to locate any particular item you might have a question about, although it’s equally nice to browse the different categories and see what you learn! Mcaulay’s sketches provide even more information, as well as a dash of humor (ever see a wooly mammoth riding a hang glider? Here’s your chance!). At the end of the book he includes a short history of inventions, which provides just enough information to whet a maker’s appetite and make them want to learn more. 400 pages long, The Way Things Work is not a book you can read to your kids in one sitting. But it is a book you and your kids will enjoy looking at, and it’s a truly handy resource to have on hand for those moments when your child asks you a question like, “How does a lightbulb work?” Now, you can both find out together.


Castle to Pyramid: Macaulay’s Take on Buildings

Macaulay has a real knack for being able to explain complex objects or concepts in a way that is easy to understand and interesting to read about. This comes through in The Way Things Work, and in his other books, such as his series on buildings and structures: Castle, Cathedral, Pyramid, Mosque, and Mill. These single-subject books go into more detail and depth, using the architecture of the buildings to better explain the history of the people, places, and issues that made them important to human civilization. Macaulay’s humor shines through the text, and the black and white line drawings, along with countless diagrams and blueprints of building designs, show the human side of the huge structures that dwarfed those who worked and lived (and died) within them. These books are definitely geared toward older children and adults, but are still fun for younger kids with a passion for buildings to look through.



How It Works: a New Series about The Inner Workings of Things

Macaulay’s latest series, How It Works, is aimed at younger children, from first grade on. These beautifully illustrated, detailed books prove that Macaulay knows how to explain things to everyone at every level. Toilet is especially great to read to young children, who are often curious as to how this contraption works (and why we need it). Jet Plane is another example of Macaulay’s ability to know what young children are fascinated with and how to present it to them; the color illustrations are full of Macaulay’s ever-present sense of humor and show all the details of the plane that kids want to see. Finally, Macaulay has also written a companion Castle book for younger kids, which provides a wonderful introduction to the inner workings of the castle and primes them for the more sophisticated version when they’re older.


We have barely scratched the surface of Macaulay books, but they are all definitely worth checking out.  Long live David Macaulay and his ability to explain the world!