Author: Charles Platt
Publisher: Make, 2009
Aimed at: Complete beginner's and electronics enthusiasts
Pros: Well illustratrated practical projects, highly motivating
Cons: Scope for a second volume at more advanced level
Reviewed by: Harry Fairhead
This is a really good book. If you are interested in electronics but found it too technical or mathematical this is the book for you.
It might even be a good read if you have learned electronics and need to refresh your memory or simply learn the practical skills to complement some theory. The author has crammed his creation with coloured photos, diagrams and cartoons and manages to explain how electronics works without being mysterious or mathematical. From the word go the experiments and projects are fun. Try putting a pair of wires on your tongue to demonstrate that the tingling varies as you move them appear - its all about resistance and current. Then we have "dangerous" experiments like shorting out a battery and blowing up an LED.
Through this lively approach you quickly gain confidence and knowledge. The best part is that the essentially abstract ideas of electricity are explained by analogy with concrete things that you should know about like water flow and pressure. The book quickly moves on from the basics like batteries in serial and parallel to designing with an LED. Using a data sheet and some simple ideas the resistor needed to limit the current and run the LED safely is calculated. However not content with this exercise we also explore what happens if the current is too high or two low.
All the way through the book there are scattered boxes that give some historical background to the inventions and their inventors and boxes that detail practical skills such as soldering. There is also a lot of encouragement to setup a work area and buy the right tools of the job. Moving on from basic electricity and simple components the book tackles the transistor and the programmable uni-junction (PUT) again by using physical analogies with more familiar things. From this point the world of integrated circuits is waiting and we find out about the 555 timer and basic logic elements. Toward the end of the book we finally reach the microprocessor in the form of a PICAXE processor and a brief mention of the Stamp. If the book has a flaw it is that it stops at this point. Clearly a Volume Two is called for dealing with more digital and more processor-based projects.
The actual projects are fairly simple - an LED flasher, random dice, key pad code, "crystal" set radio, burglar alarm an so on. The projects not only help reinforce the theory but provide case studies on how to actually construct things - more soldering, stripboard, breadboards and even a mention of alternatives such as wire wrapping and surface mount.
If you know a little about electronics and want to rekindle your enthusiasm this is a great book. For the complete beginner its also a great book as long as you don't expect to master everything in it at one sitting. To go from the basics of electricity to chips in 300 or so pages is a lot of ground.
Just buy it and ensure that there is a Volume Two!