Book Review: Things Come Apart: A Teardown Manual for Modern Living

Piece by piece

A fascinating look at just what is inside everyday objects and what surprised me was just how many bits there are when they carefully laid out and photographed from above in one of Todd McLellan's shots. A nice touch was keeping a running total of all the pieces: a 1982 Walkman has 370; 2007 Blackberry 120; 1960 blender 147; 1970 sewing machine 482; 1980 bike 893. Oddly cameras seem to have a very similar number of components: 1973 SLR has 576; 2012 digital SLR 580; 2005 digital video camera 558. Admittedly all these totals do include every washer, nut, and bolt. Most of the products were hand-holdable except for three, a bike, piano and a Zenith two-seater light aircraft (the CH-650 with 7580 pieces) this was photographed in the company hangar and shown over three pages with a fold-out.

Take the book apart and you'll find it's in three sections. First the fifty products were disassembled and laid out in a precise and formal way, photographed and then a second shot, taken with strobe lighting, as all the pieces were dropped from a platform in the studio to create a free-fall photo of parts and the complete opposite of the other photo. Actually McLellan says he had more success creating these second images by dropping them in groups and using software to combine the photos. The third part of the book and the weakest in my view, are four essays looking at tech innovation, restoration, online repairs and product disassembly.

These short essays are interesting enough but I thought they were rather out of place in a strongly visual book of products in pieces. They really should have had some photos, too. Penny Bendall, a ceramics conservator, discusses how she repairs broken ceramics: a valuable antique vase or figurines. Gever Tulley, founder of the Tinkering School, talks about his summer camps where kids can learn how to use power tools and make things from scrap. Neither of these two essays had pictures of the things discussed.

This one of those wonderful books that can be opened at any page and you'll be immediately grabbed by stunning photos of hundreds of small items laid out with geometric precision or the same pieces floating in a spatial montage. I think the idea is good enough for second book (though without any essays).

Things Come Apart: A Teardown Manual for Modern Living is available at Amazon (US | CA | UK | DE | FR | IT | ES | JP | CN) and Book Depository

Things Come Apart: A Teardown Manual for Modern Living

Things Come Apart: A Teardown Manual for Modern Living

Things Come Apart: A Teardown Manual for Modern Living

Things Come Apart: A Teardown Manual for Modern Living

Things Come Apart: A Teardown Manual for Modern Living

Things Come Apart: A Teardown Manual for Modern Living

Things Come Apart: A Teardown Manual for Modern Living

Things Come Apart: A Teardown Manual for Modern Living

Things Come Apart: A Teardown Manual for Modern Living

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