Making things by Hand – Book Review

June 1, 2010

I’m a book author. And as such, I have the power and the skill to evaluate books by other authors. Or so you might think. In fact, readers are vary particular people who like what they like and hate what they hate. Lucky for Mark Frauenfelder, I liked his book.

Oooh, sorry for the spoiler. But I’ve just saved you some time. You can either read the entire review or just scroll down to the Amazon link below and buy the book. Enjoy!

Here’s the book cover and below this photo is the review.

Mark Frauenfelder is the founder of Boing Boing and the editor in chief at Make magazine. He knows a little something about technology and a lot about using materials to create useable items. In fact, he now wrote the book on that topic.
So let’s go beyond the “advance uncorrected proofs” tag on the front cover and dig inside to what I liked and didn’t like about this book. *Hopefully they have a Kindle version for those of you who are against wasting paper.
The Good

In Made by Hand, Frauenfelder writes like he’s talking. That’s a good thing. People who write as if they’re talking to you often are more effective at sharing their point of view, their topics and find more success imparting knowledge that remains with readers. At least that’s what I’ve found. And this book does that.

From blaming public relations pioneer Edward Bernays for the demise of do-it-yourself projects and the rise of subliminal advertising; to teaching readers what things they need to start beekeeping in their own yard, Frauenfelder takes us on a jaunt across time and space that ends with the re-establishment of our self reliance.
While I don’t really make anything myself, I still see it as a romantic notion. I’ve had relatives who have built boats, friends who can build computers from scratch and even girlfriends who created their own clothing. The last great thing I made was a table in eighth-grade wood shop. *The table is still standing and is probably worth about $42Million, but that’s neither here nor there.
Essentially, I like the journey Frauenfelder takes me on with vignettes and practical tips. I got a taste of this from his podcast that aired in 2007, pimping another book, Rule the Web. So let’s look at the less pleasing aspects of this current book.
The Bad
This book is a rambler. As much as the discussion style of the tome is fun, it also can be draining. Frauenfelder rolls along through his stories with a direction…but this direction is slightly ill-defined. He wants to tell us about chicken coops and growing your own vegetables and even making guitars and wooden spoons.
Sure, this is a fun trip, but it requires an investment of time. Maybe that’s the irony of this book, that it requires the very dedication and investment that people will learn how to adopt by reading the book.
Feel like you’re in a wormhole? Right.
Well, the stories were well thought out and the descriptions were lively and accurate (though I have to confess I have not made a spoon and have not started keeping bees). But the last spot where the book failed me a little bit was the end. It came full circle, which is what you should expect from an essay or a term paper or even a thesis, but I wasn’t ready to have the “and so this illustrates how do-it-yourself was dying and now can be brought back to life” lecture on the waning pages of the book.
Overall Thoughts
Buy it. Really. I like the content. I like the stories in the book. I even like the projects he shares and the premise he carries throughout. While you might put it down a couple times because of pacing and rambling, I was given a pre-release copy that may have been tightened up considerably in the final editing process.
Ultimately, Frauenfelder is a guy with ideas from another century – but they still make sense. Look around you and dream a little bigger. Think of how you can reuse some of the ‘trash’ in your life. And how that reuse can enrich both you and the world around you.
Were I grading this as a paper, I’d give it a B-. Plenty good to at least make it into your summer reading list. Maybe good enough to give as a gift. You decide.
Made by Hand can be found here…

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