Make: Electronics -Learning by doing & messing things up – A fun how-to book #bookreview

Make: Electronics
By Charles Platt
(O’Reilly, paperback, list price $34.99; Kindle edition, list price $27.99)

Okay, big confession time. I learned electronics back in the day when vacuum tubes were still state of the art, and ham radio hobbyists happily tinkered with World War II surplus aircraft radios, tank transmitters and telegraph keys that had thigh clamps so radio operators could communicate with HQ while bouncing around in Jeeps.

Electronics is still one of my hobbies. But I haven’t kept good pace with advancing technologies, and I don’t tackle as many do-it-yourself projects as I used to. I have a large cache of small electronics components stashed in plastic crates in a shed. And those crates seldom have been opened in recent years.

This book has changed that. Make: Electronics by Charles Platt has gotten me excited again about wiring up simple projects. It is not a new book. It was published in 2009. But it is still up to date in the teaching of electronics fundamentals. 

Platt’s book approaches electronics the same way I learned it, by burning things out, messing things up and then studying some of the theory, learning how to read schematic diagrams, and learning how be more careful and thoughtful as circuits are wired up. Of course, in my day, some mis-wired electronic projects literally caught on fire, and more than one exploded.

Platt’s how-to experiments, fortunately, use low voltages and low currents, typically 9-volt batteries or a few double-A batteries. The projects can be constructed on small breadboards or perforated boards or even built “dead-bug style,” where the leads of the components simply are soldered together without any other kind of support.

His well-organized and well-written book keeps its promise to be “a hands-on primer for the new electronics enthusiast.” But it can teach some new tricks to some old electronics hounds, as well.

Make: Electronics begins with a small shopping list. You will need a few inexpensive components and tools to get started. Then it moves into some very basic and classic experiments, such as touching a 9-volt battery to your tongue, making a battery with a lemon, using resistors to reduce the voltage in a circuit, applying too much voltage to an LED and burning it out, and shorting a small battery to feel its heat.

Some fundamental theories of electricity and electronics are introduced. Proper soldering is illustrated. And then, as more theory is examined and explained, the book’s experiments move into progressively more complex projects, such as amplifiers. By the end of the book, the reader is tinkering with basic robotics and microcontrollers.

Platt provides numerous helpful resources and references for further examination, as well.

The only disappointment for me is that radio-frequency projects are limited to the construction of a basic crystal radio. But the author deftly covers a lot of ground in his book, and even simple RF circuits admittedly are better handled by those who have mastered the fundamentals first. 

Bottom line, this book has some circuits I am eager to wire up, because I am in the mood to learn again. Plus, I already have a boatload of parts and tools in storage, just waiting to be used. 

With luck and attention to detail, maybe nothing I build this time will blow up.

Si Dunn‘s latest book is a detective novel, Erwin’s Law. His other published works include Jump, a novella, and a book of poetry, plus several short stories, including The 7th Mars Cavalry, all available on Kindle. He is a screenwriter, a freelance book reviewer, and a former technical writer and software/hardware QA test specialist.

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