Growing up, I learned The way things work from author David Macaulay‘s incredible illustrated books. This week I was surprised to see Macaulay’s endorsement in my inbox for a new illustrated explanation by another author – but the surprise didn’t last long.
Fifteen minutes after I started flipping through a copy ahead of time Hidden systems, which just came out this week, I immediately ordered the book for my children. It seems like a great way to help them conceptualize the internet, the world’s water supply, and our power grid — and get them thinking about the world’s infrastructure they’ll one day inherit.
In 262 pages, author and cartoonist Dan Nott treats each of these systems in comic panel form, piecing together the building blocks of how they work and the basics of how they were conceived, all without ignoring the societal challenges they face. “I started drawing about hidden systems because comics seem to have this superpower-like ability to compare how we think about something with how it actually works,” Nott writes in the book.
A lot of it is stuff that took me years to learn, distilled down to an incredibly readable form. Even adults are likely to find things they don’t know, such as the shapes and locations of secret buildings where telecom companies hide their network equipment.
I want to show you some of it, so I asked publisher Random House if I could share the first chapter on the metaphors we use to describe the Internet — metaphors that are sometimes useful but inherently wrong.
They were happy to do it, so please!