How the world was built

15th December 2000 at 00:00
HOW THINGS WORK TODAY. By Michael Wright and Mukul Patel. Marshall Publishing. pound;25

THE KINGFISHER ENCYCLOPAEDIA OF THE FUTURE. By Anthony Wilson and Clive Gifford. Kingfisher Publications. pound;17.99.

INVENTING THE MODERN WORLD: technology since 1750. By Robert Bud, Simon Niziol, Timothy Boon and Andrew Nahum. Dorling KindersleyThe Science Museum. pound;25.

GREAT WONDERS OF THE WORLD. By Russell Ash. illustrated by Richard Bonson. Dorling Kindersley. pound;12.99.

These four lavishly illustrated books are designed to provide insights into the "made world" and bring it to life.

At the browsing level, readers will find attention-grabbing, clearly-articulated accounts of how things are made and work. At a study level, they provide useful resources for research into technology-related topics. At a design or presentation level, they offer wonderful exemplars of how to use a variety of graphic and photographic imagery to communicate information.

How Things Work Today, based on "Working Knowledge", the monthly column in Scientific American, explains the technologies of everyday life.

The urban and domestic environment section looks at elevators, escalators and vacuum cleaners for example; the crime and security section at swipe cards and the medicine and research section at lasers and genetic engineering.

This beautifully visual book uses a range of graphics techniques to bring the technologies close to the reader. Cut-away drawings expose the structure of skyscrapers and subways; the inside of a computer mouse or a light aircraft's controls. The balance between powerfully illustrative graphics and explanatory notes should appeal to GCSE students and above.

The Kingfisher Encyclopaedia of the Future is a guide to the cutting-edge technology. It explores the origins of the information revolution, looking at how computers, the Internet and virtual reality affect the way we communicate.

Machines that will help build the 21st century, ranging from molecule-sized robots, to instruments for working on inhospitable planets.

The encyclopaedia also examines anticipated advances in health and medicine, transport, and leisure. At times, the violent, busy nature of the visuals breaks up the clarity of the message. The highly worked graphic pages attempt to project the "feel" instead, which can be distracting.

Inventing the Modern World: technoloy since 1750 traces the history of inventions, power sources and objects which have shaped our industrial culture. It is extremely well-written and draws on a huge source of photographic record, from tinted prints of 18th-century textile mills, to the construction site of the Eiffel Tower and the haunting image of Chernobyl. The story of the technology is often told through the lives of the people behind the developments: Wedgwood, Brunel, Ford and Whittle.

It begins with the root stock of Britain's industrial revolution: improvements in iron and cotton production, new power sources and the quest for accurate measurement of time and space (and on land and sea).

This first industrial revolution flourished with the railways and the associated growth of towns, which then created the squalor and disease that was gradually countered by piped water, sewage systems and lighting.

The second industrial revolution, in which chemistry, electricity and systematic research and development provided massive industrial advancement, led to the establishment of assembly lines for everything from the model T Ford, to the tanks and guns of the two World Wars, and the consumer revolution.

The book is more reflective about the present day, examining our ambivalence towards technology, which is presented as no longer the solution for our troubles, but the creator of many of them (BSE and nuclear waste, for example).

Great Wonders of the World takes a fascinating look at the seven wonders: the great pyramid of Giza; the statue of Zeus at Olympia; the mausoleum at Halicarnassus; the Hanging Gardens of Babylon; the Colossus of Rhodes; The Pharos of Alexandria; The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus.

Using ancient records, each is beautifully illustrated with brief contextual notes, maps and descriptions. Another spread outlines the materials and technologies used; the craftsmen and artisans who would have done the work. Finally, links are made to parallel "wonders" from the ancient or the modern world. For example: the Colossus of Rhodes is contrasted with the Statue of Liberty.

This unusual and completely accessible book, which brings to life long lost treasures, should find its way into many primary school reading corners.

Richard Kimbell Richard Kimbell is director of the Technology Education Research Unit at Goldsmiths College, University of London


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