Electronics Book Reviews

    Numerous electronics books

    Electronics Book Reviews

    Electronics is not just useful, it's also fun. However, whether you're a hobbyist, an absolute beginner, a seasoned veteran, or even a pro. Everyone who wants to be successful in this field needs a few books, for training or reference.

    So which books should you get? Well here are the books I've read and what I've thought about them.

    Ready to get started? Lets go.
    Make: Electronics, by Charles Platt

    Make: Electronics 2nd Edition, by Charles Platt

    Do you find text books tedious or overwhelming? Don't want tons of mathematical formulas? Perhaps you just want a gentle introduction to electronics? Maybe the contrarian/cheeky part of you wants to see what happens when you burn components out, and to safely apply some of the things you've learned?

    If that sounds like you? Then you should check "Make: Electronics" out.

     Why do I like this book?

    If you've looked at other popular books in electronics, such as:

    • The Art of Electronics.
    • Practical Electronics for Inventors.
    • Electronics for Dummies, the 9 in 1 book omnibus.

    You'll notice that they are all, huge tomes of 1000 pages or more. Are they great books? Sure, but certainly not something I'd give a beginner! If you do, they'll use tomes like these as a door stop, or prop up their couch with it when a leg breaks.

    Beginners are likely to be intimidated, or scared off, and use it for anything but training material. Frankly, it took me a long time to get "around" to using some of these books for anything but an occasional reference.

    The catch phrase on Make: Electronics, "Burn things out, mess things up, that's how you learn" is appealing to a guy who had to fumble his way through the old Funway Electronics kits sold by Dick Smith stores back in the 90s. With my lack of guidance as a child, it was certainly not the most fun way for me. I was frequently frustrated, and disappointed when things didn't work, but also elated with each success too.

    Interestingly, in one case, I found that the components provided in the kit themselves were the wrong type and that it was never going to work. That took me a long time to figure out. When something did indeed "burn out" I was often bitterly disappointed. I think setting the tone of "You're going to mess it up so you learn how not to do things, and more importantly why not to do certain things" is a fantastic message to send beginners. "Don't be afraid to fail, or break stuff".

    This book starts with an assumption that you're at the absolute beginner. The first half of the book includes basic theory, broken down into parts that late-primary school children can understand. It lists components for each experiment so you can get them from any reputable supplier when you're ready. It gives you some interesting side notes about why things are the way they are, even when modern knowledge states that some of the old theories are, in fact, wrong. This is very important stuff.

    I also like the fact that there are some significant experiments in the beginning where you intentionally dismantle electronic components to see how they work, how they're assembled, and some of their limitations. That can be really handy as well... especially when some components do fundamentally similar jobs to others, but each option might have particular pros and cons to consider.

    While I believe that many primary-aged kids can understand the basics, this book builds on itself from one experiment to the next. Honestly, I think that the book will quickly move beyond primary-aged kids and will be best suited to teenagers and beyond once it starts getting into the more advanced experiments. Once you start building security systems, especially with integrated circuits like the "Chips Ahoy" chapter, I think a couple of readings will be necessary since a "once over" might not convey the meaning fully.

    Overall though, I think Charles has done a commendable job and it's a great start to basic electronics.

    How to Fix Everything Electronic by Michael Jay Geier

    How to Fix Everything Electronic by Michael Jay Geier

    While this is not an absolute beginner book it's close. If I had to put a better term to it, I'd say it's "beginner friendly". This book is a fantastically practical guide, easily read, and filled with tips and tricks that will get you a long way towards a successfull repair.
    If you’re looking to “learn a bit about electronics”, especially with a view to learn basic electronic problem solving, and of course repair, then this is a beginner friendly book that’s much easier to understand than most alternatives out there.

    However, I don’t want you to be under any illusions. This book won’t make you an electronic engineer, it’s not riddled with the numerous mathematical formulas, it doesn’t include the theory of advanced circuit design, and it certainly won’t teach you the underlying physics of each and every component. You just need to find problems (whether it’s a bad connection, a short circuit, or a dead component), fix/replace them, and then test everything is ok before you put it back together. You’re not going to be able to fix bizarre faults that require multi-million dollar equipment, or repair the internal microscopic circuitry in chips, CPUs, and graphics cards, but you can fix common parts where issues are most likely to turn up…. at least in a range of common household devices.

    Michael has cut out a lot of stuff that would probably scare off most beginners. Instead, he teaches you the concepts of “what” and “where”, rather than the “how” (unless we’re discussing deductive reasoning and testing methods) and he’s also avoided the deeper rabbit-hole areas of “why?”. Why seems limited to explaining why one symptom may be more likely to indicate problem with a capacitor in a power supply, than…. say.. an inductor on an input stage.

    QUESTIONS THAT THIS BOOK MAY ANSWER:

    “How on Earth do I open up the device without breaking it, or zapping myself?”

    “What does each component look like, and what do they do?”

    “What equipment do I need to test various components, and how do I know a good result from a bad?”

    “Most consumer electronics are quite complicated, how do I identify common sections (called stages) responsible for power supply, input signal processing, control/interface, and output?”

    “What are the common problems, their symptoms, failure points, and repair methods for <insert common electronic device here>?”

    “Are there any dangers with attempting to fix a device with these symptoms?”

    “Once you’ve found the issue(s), is it worth repairing a device with that issue, knowing the risks, the odds of getting replacement parts, and successfully installing them?”

    “What are the limits to what I can fix with a typical hobbyist electronics workspace?”

    “What should my expectations be, realistically?” (You will fail more often as a beginner, and get better). Don’t expect everything to be repairable if it’s been dropped in the ocean, a vat of acid, or involved in a house fire.

    “If I could ask an experienced repair tech, what tips and tricks might they have to improve my odds of success?”
    If those questions sound fairly similar to ones you ask, then this book will be quite interesting and useful for you.

    THE BOOK, COMPARED TO THE COMPETITION:


    A lot of you will be reading this to answer one simple question:

    “Should I buy this book?”

    At 366 pages long, “How to Diagnose and Fix Everything Electronic, 2nd Edition” (from here on, called “the book”) is far shorter (and cheaper) than other cornerstone electronics… tomes like 1200+ pages of “The Art of Electronics”, the 1000+ pages of “Practical Electronics for Inventors”, and the 900+ pages of the “Electronics All-in-One For Dummies”. However, this book is noticeably easier to read than the similarly titled “How To Test Almost Everything Electronic” by Delton T. Horn.

    Conversely, at least, at the simpler, more beginner friendly end, I’m big fan of “Make Magazine’s” numerous “Hobbyist” publications like “Make: Electronics” by Charles Platt, and the sequel “Make: More Electronics” by the same author. However, while these are great at practicing rudimentary designs and bread board based prototyping, electronic repair is not really the focus of those books, and they do NOT include important safety information about the dangers of consumer, mains-powered devices.

    Jay Geier, the author of this book, has written this in a readable way that  is not only informative, but also has a conversational tone. This is in stark contrast to the dry, shall we say.. sterile, even boring method so commonly used in textbooks and manuals. He even includes “magic smoke” in the glossary, he jokingly described the irrational prices of components might be rationalised if they’re made of “unobtanium” and “exhorbitantium”, which makes failed repairs even more painful.

    The overall structure of the book is logical and carefully thought out:

    Chapter one with “Fixing is fun” (If only half of my university text books were as “to the point” as that).

    Chapter two is all about the tools you need to set up a repair space, and what is likely to be more (or less) important to those just starting out.

    Chapter three is about safety to you, others, and the devices/tools in question.

    Chapter four is the philosophy, and process of diagnosing issues, and fixing things. This is the general “why and how” to fix things.

    Chapter five outlines basic electrical/signal/circuit concepts, and terms.

    Chapter six is “how to use your test equipment”. Pretty self explanatory, really.

    Chapter seven is “intro to electrical components”. (Resistors, capacitors, diodes, inductors, integrated circuits, resistors, etc)

    Chapter eight is about circuit diagrams… and overall structure of a circuit.

    Chapter nine is called “Entering without breaking” (how to open a case and get to the circuits inside a device, not the criminal activity).

    Chapter ten is called “What the heck is that? Recognising major features” (breaking the whole device into manageable and recognisable stages).

    Chapter eleven is called “A hunting we will go, signal tracing and diagnosis”

    Chapter twelve is “Presto Chang-o (replacing dead components)”

    Chapter thirteen is “That’s a wrap, reassembly”

    Chapter fourteen is “Pesky parts and persnickety problems” basically an outline of troublesome components ranging from car electronics to microphones.

    Chapter fifteen is “Aces up your sleeve: Tips and tricks for specific circuits and products”. Need to repair a mobile phone, a laptop, projector, or TV? Stuff you should know, and things that can help you to repair them. This is one of the best chapters in the book.

    This book will suit people with a casual interest, teenagers, a hobbyist, and people who are considering “going further” toward electronic engineering, and product design. As such, I think it suits people of a beginner-to-intermediate level of knowledge, who want a direct, practical application to that knowledge. So I’d have to say, it’s a “gateway” book that opens up a wide range of possibilities. Particularly when coupled with free YouTube channels like “Learn Electronic Repair”, which complement this book extremely well.

    However, there’s a lot of stuff that just doesn’t fit into a book like this. Detailed descriptions of practical soldering techniques, why using thinner solder wire often results in a better (and cleaner) joint, the difficulties in using “lead free” solder, or the benefits in using flux. It doesn’t describe the correct temperatures/times you can expose components to as you’re soldering/removing them from boards (particularly tiny SMD components) or much detail on electrostatic discharge (ESD). Similarly, it doesn’t cover calibration of your particular test equipment, or it’s maintenance in any great detail. So you might not know that your readings are off, if you have the most basic setup.

    So while this is a good, easy to read repair book, there’s always more you could know. So it’s worth watching a few YouTube videos, or chatting to someone more experienced to round out some of those rough edges/omissions. I’m not criticising Jay for not including them, as this would make a tome I think few people have the time to read. However, it’s important to realise the limitations of a book like this, and if you do intend to attempt a particular repair job, look at a few videos online, re-read that section a few times BEFORE starting and of course, double check your safety procedures/gear.

    I found this book to be particularly helpful, and helped me to read my other electronics-related tomes that I never quite got around to beforehand. The sheer practical relevance of the information to things I’ve literally had to fix around the house is irrefutable. I’ve repaired things, from broken headphones, thermostat controls on a central heating system, smart lighting systems, an LCD projector, a phone, and several LCD monitors which needed caps replacing almost every two years or so like clockwork. I’ve done most of this with little more than a soldering iron, a multimeter, and a LCR/ESR meter.

    Anyway, I hope this gives you some useful insight into the book, and all the best in your electronic repair endeavours.

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