Book Review: Made by Hand

Published in 2010, Made by Hand, by Mark Frauenfelder, is a book I finally got around to reading. While underwhelmed with the title, I enjoyed the read more than I expected to. Not every chapter is a winner, but overall worth the time. Mark is  the editor-in-chief of MAKE magazine and co-founded bOING bOING magazine. His book reads like a journal, relaying experiences from moving abroad, to raising chickens to attempting the perfect espresso shot. While sometimes writing about topics outside the sphere of interest for most ‘makers’ the concept is approachable: don’t be afraid to fail. Beyond that, I think the overall attitude is more aspirational than inspirational.

The chapter about brewing the perfect pull of espresso summarizes what this book should have been. Mark describes his endeavor to produce barista quality espresso from an, albeit expensive, amateur machine. In this episode, Mark reaches out to experts in the field, researches the manufacture of his machine and explains the science of coffee. While entertaining to learn what qualities make the perfect espresso shot: temperature, crema and maturity in flavor, I think this chapter misses the mark in the reader base. While he modifies the temperature control, with help from the internet, the take away is that you can’t pull the perfect espresso shot without a lot of money and a lot of effort.

His experience in raising back-yard chickens hit me. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll check your local Codes & Enforcement website to see if you can keep chickens at home… The appeal of pets that produce food makes my soul happy; and the challenge of keeping animals alive, happy and healthy is frustratingly beautiful. This section is well worth the read. The learning about animal husbandry and providing for the simplest of creature makes you appreciate quality and well sourced food. Unfortunately, stubbornness of the author becomes apparent, as choices are made the reader will disagree with.

Finally, a short section on carving spoons made me smile and cringe. While the spirit of carving your own spoon is enviable and, for me, personally applicable; the idea of protecting a spoon with Olive Oil makes me question the author’s message. The theme of the book, that anyone can do anything with a little basic research, seems to be lacking. Cookware should only be protected with mineral oil, paraffin wax or beeswax: all materials that won’t go rancid.

Originally published as a hardcover, a paperback and kindle edition is available now. The main theme, don’t be afraid to fail, is obvious. Mark’s commentary on trying seemingly unapproachable projects with little research is enviable; but at times unapproachable. It’s clear that the author is not hindered by personal finances or any consideration of the cost of his failures. While failure is often a valuable learning experience, a little more basic research before diving into a project is prudent – and a way yo ave you money, time, frustration and keep your partner willing to let you keep making!

Overall: 3.5 /5

Next on the reading list:

    

 

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