I grew up, I learned The Way Things Work from the author David Macaulay‘s incredible picture books. This week, I was surprised to see Macaulay’s endorsement in my inbox for a new illustrated illustrated one by another author — but the surprise didn’t last long.
Fifteen minutes after I started investigating an advance copy of the Hidden Systems, which just came out this week, I immediately ordered the book for my kids. It sounds like a fantastic way to help them conceptualize the internet, the world’s water supply, and our power grid — and get them thinking about infrastructure of the world they will inherit one day.
In 262 pages, author and cartoonist Dan Nott discusses each of these systems in comic panel form, putting together the building blocks of how they work and the basics of how they are imagined, all without ignoring the societal challenges each faces. “I started drawing about hidden systems because comics seem to have this superpower ability to compare how we are think about something how it works concretely,” Nott wrote in the book.
Most of it is stuff that took me years to learn, put into an incredibly readable form. Even adults can probably find things they don’t know, like the shapes and locations of secret buildings where telecom companies keep their networking equipment.
I want to show you some of it, so I asked publisher Random House if I could share the first chapter about the metaphors we use to describe the internet — metaphors that are sometimes useful but inherently wrong.
They were happy to oblige, so here it is!