This review must start with a disclosure. The lovely, kind people at the No Starch Press sent us a copy of this book for free. The weighty package from the USA, dropped through the letterbox of TLCB towers and caused great excitement. So much so, that all of the 32⅞ Elves in the office were given a Smartie each to celebrate. This was followed by a short, sharp blast from Mr. Airhorn, just to show them that we weren’t going soft. So a big “Thank you” from The Lego Car Blog and some well fed Elves too.
For this particular reviewer, Paweł “Sariel” Kmieć’s first edition was published at exactly the right moment. I had emerged from my Lego “Dark Ages” and was enjoying building again. As kid I’d enjoyed building both space and Technic models but now beams had no studs on them and apparently they were called “liftarms”. Connections were all via pins and axles and specially shaped pieces that were undreamed of in my teenage years. These new parts and techniques opened the doors to building things that were either too bulky or too structurally weak in days gone by. The opportunities were immense but also bewildering.
The light in the wilderness was the first edition of “The Unofficial Lego Technic Builder’s Guide”. My copy is bent, dog-eared, coffee stained, tear stained and much cherished. The second edition is bigger, at just over 400 pages but still small enough to keep handy on your bedside table or read in the bath. If you don’t own a copy of the first edition and have any interest in Technic building, the new book is a must buy. It is presented in a clear visual style, well written and has a good index. At around $35/£25 the book is great value too. But if you already own the first edition, is it worth buying the new version? Let’s take a look inside.
The second edition uses the same style as the first. The pages are packed with information but are easy to read, with text and illustrations placed well. The font is the same, comfortable to read font as the first edition. The author is a graphic designer by profession and it shows through in this product. This is a very technical book but it doesn’t have the feel of a school science textbook. Although most of the illustrations are the same as in the original book, many have been changed for subtle upgrades that are visually clearer. There are also many brand new illustrations.
The second edition is 70 pages longer than the first. One of the ways that these are accounted for is in additions to the early chapters that cover the parts range of Lego Technic. It’s amazing to step back and reflect on quite how many new Technic pieces have been created by Lego since the book’s first edition just three years ago. There are also additions to the definitions of technical terms and “Tricks with Bricks”. Chapter 5 is a brand new chapter on wheels. It starts with defining what a wheel is, in Lego terms and finishes by covering the up-to-date topic of using RC car tyres on large Technic cars. As you carry on leafing through the book you spot more upgrades. There is a tabular version of Sariel’s famous online gear calculator. The “Pneumatics” chapter includes the V2 version of Lego’s system and like the “Pulleys”, “Building Strong” & “Motors” chapters, the pneumatic “Devices” chapter has been slightly upgraded too.
The one big disappointment for me in this book is that the chapters on “Levers & Linkages” and “Custom Mechanical Solutions” are unchanged. These were one of the most inspiring chapters in the first edition, making me want to revisit my old engineering text books and try building some of the mechanisms in there. It would have been good to have seen some extra ideas here. These sorts of things are extremely useful for landing gears or feed mechanisms or kinetic sculptures. Overall the book is very focused on Lego vehicles, which is what you’d expect coming from a famous builder of Lego vehicles of all types. Lego Technic forums tend to be focused on vehicles too, so this book is spot on with its content for the market. However, it would have been nice to have had a bit more about the creativity, engineering and Lego techniques which go into things such as Great Ball Contraptions or kinetic sculptures. Then again, Lego produces model vehicle sets, the market is about cars & lorries and things that swoosh along are more fun than a static model. Oh, and we’re car blog, so we’d best not go on about this for too long… Continue reading