The best books for people who love taking things apart (and hopefully putting them back together again)

Why am I passionate about this?

For as long as I can remember I’ve been obsessed with figuring out how things work. What started with me pulling apart redundant household tech as a child (thanks to my very supportive parents) has become a lifelong passion in making and restoring one of the most incredible machines invented – the watch. Our millennia-old obsession with making things tells us so much about who we are and the world we like in. I love all of these books as, in varied ways, they inspire curiosity and connect us with our innately human instinct to understand the world around us.


I wrote...

Hands of Time: A Watchmaker's History

By Rebecca Struthers,

Book cover of Hands of Time: A Watchmaker's History

What is my book about?

Hands of Time is a journey through watchmaking history, from the earliest attempts at time-keeping, to the breakthrough in engineering that gave us the first watch, to today – where the timepieces hold cultural and historical significance beyond what its first creators could have imagined. Acclaimed watchmaker Rebecca Struthers uses the most important watches throughout history to explore their attendant paradigm shifts in how we think about time, indeed how we think about our own humanity. From an up-close look at the birth of the fakes and forgeries industry which marked the watch as a valuable commodity, to the watches that helped us navigate trade expeditions, she reveals how these instruments have shaped how we build and then consequently make our way through the world.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work

Rebecca Struthers Why did I love this book?

Shop Class as Soulcraft is a very special book to me, because it’s the first one I read over 10 years ago that managed to perfectly weave between the philosophy and practice of craft. It was that moment of “wow, I want to be able to write like this!”

Too often, craft is studied by academics or theorists, while the craftspeople getting their hands dirty rarely write about what they do. This book so perfectly balances between the two, it’s an ode to making, with the passion for working with your hands oozing from every page in such a brilliantly funny and engaging way.

By Matthew B. Crawford,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Shop Class as Soulcraft as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A philosopher/mechanic's wise (and sometimes funny) look at the challenges and pleasures of working with one's hands 

“This is a deep exploration of craftsmanship by someone with real, hands-on knowledge. The book is also quirky, surprising, and sometimes quite moving.” —Richard Sennett, author of The Craftsman

Called “the sleeper hit of the publishing season” by The Boston Globe, Shop Class as Soulcraft became an instant bestseller, attracting readers with its radical (and timely) reappraisal of the merits of skilled manual labor. On both economic and psychological grounds, author Matthew B. Crawford questions the educational imperative of turning everyone into a…


Book cover of Nuts and Bolts: Seven Small Inventions That Changed the World (in a Big Way)

Rebecca Struthers Why did I love this book?

Full disclosure, I was interviewed for the chapter on springs but I promise to be unbiased! I’ve been a fan of Agrawal’s work since Built.

A structural engineer by training, she’s an amazing storyteller with the most incredible way of deconstructing and explaining technology. Nuts & Bolts is no different, you’ll never look at the world around you in the same way again, from bicycles to breast pumps and tiny rivets to the ISS. It will fill you with the enthusiasm of a child discovering the world around you all over again.

By Roma Agrawal,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Nuts and Bolts as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Some of engineering's mightiest achievements are small in scale, even hidden-and yet, without them, the complex machinery on which our modern world runs would not exist. In Nuts and Bolts, Roma Agrawal examines seven of these extraordinary elements: the nail, the wheel, the spring, the lens, the magnet, the string, and the pump.

From the physics behind both Roman nails and modern skyscrapers to rudimentary springs that inspired lithium batteries, Agrawal shows us how even the most sophisticated items are built on the foundations of these ancient and fundamental breakthroughs in engineering. Agrawal explores an array of intricate technologies-dishwashers, spacesuits,…


Book cover of The Stonemason: A History of Building Britain

Rebecca Struthers Why did I love this book?

As you’ve probably guessed by this point, I love it when makers and restorers write about what they do.

It brings a history of craft to life in such an infectious way. The Stonemason is a journey back in time that explores how the way we’ve built buildings can tell us stories about our social and cultural histories. It’s incredibly personal, using some of the monuments Ziminski has worked on over his 30-year career as a stonemason, and for my fellow dog lovers it also stars his gorgeous whippet Nutmeg.

By Andrew Ziminski,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Stonemason as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A stonemason's story of the building of Britain: part archaeological history, part deeply personal insight into an ancient craft.

In his thirty-year career, stonemason Andrew Ziminski has worked on many of our greatest monuments. From Neolithic monoliths to Roman baths and temples, from the tower of Salisbury Cathedral to the engine houses, mills and aqueducts of the Industrial Revolution and beyond, The Stonemason is his very personal history of how Britain was built - from the inside out. Stone by different stone, culture by different culture, Andrew Ziminski (with his faithful whippet in tow) takes us on an unforgettable journey…


Book cover of Handmade: A Scientist's Search for Meaning through Making

Rebecca Struthers Why did I love this book?

As adults, we get to a point in our lives where we generally know what we’re good at, and when we’re good at something, it becomes challenging to try new things we know we’ll initially, probably, be very bad at it. It pushes us outside our comfort zone.

Ploszajski is a brilliant materials scientist who bravely heads outside her field on a journey to explore the hands-on world of the materials she knows so well in the lab. It’s an incredibly inspiring read for anyone holding back from trying new skills. It’s hard to come away from this book without having set your heart on taking up a new craft!

By Anna Ploszajski,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Handmade as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From atomic structures to theories about magnetic forces, scientific progress has given us a good grasp on the properties of many different materials. However, most scientists cannot measure the temperature of steel just by looking at it, or sculpt stone into all kinds of shapes, or know how it feels to blow up a balloon of glass. Handmade is the story of materials through making and doing. Author and material scientist Anna Ploszajski journeys into the domain of makers and craftspeople to comprehend how the most popular materials really work. Anna has the fresh perspective of someone at the forefront…


Book cover of Mr Shaha's Marvellous Machines: adventures in making round the kitchen table

Rebecca Struthers Why did I love this book?

I can’t think of a better way to close than with a book to inspire the next generation of people who love taking things apart! This brilliant compilation of easy makes sets out to cultivate curious young minds.

By using common things you can find around the house, it makes science and making accessible to all. The projects are all really straightforward and designed by Shaha, a dad and science teacher, to support the educational curriculum whilst having a lot of fun.

By Alom Shaha, Emily Robertson (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mr Shaha's Marvellous Machines as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Transform and recycle household objects into your very own home-made toys and machines!

Learn about the centre of gravity by making a balancing bird, create a toroidal vortex with a smoke-ring machine, and turn a spoon into an electromagnet. Chances are you won't need to buy the materials required for these machines because they're all in your house right now. Every child can be an engineer with the help of Mr Shaha and his marvellous machines.

Written by a science teacher and dad, Mr Shaha's Marvellous Machines is the highly anticipated sequel to Mr Shaha's Recipes for Wonder. This book…


You might also like...

Book cover of Benghazi! A New History of the Fiasco that Pushed America and its World to the Brink

Ethan Chorin Author Of Benghazi! A New History of the Fiasco that Pushed America and its World to the Brink

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Story-lover Middle East expert Curious Iconoclast Optimist

Ethan's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Benghazi: A New History is a look back at the enigmatic 2012 attack on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya, its long-tail causes, and devastating (and largely unexamined) consequences for US domestic politics and foreign policy. It contains information not found elsewhere, and is backed up by 40 pages of citations and interviews with more than 250 key protagonists, experts, and witnesses.

So far, the book is the main -- and only -- antidote to a slew of early partisan “Benghazi” polemics, and the first to put the attack in its longer term historical, political, and social context. If you want to understand some of the events that have shaped present-day America, from political polarization and the election of Donald Trump, to January 6, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Russian expansionism, and the current Israel-Hamas war, I argue, you need to understand some of the twists and turns of America's most infamous "non-scandal, scandal.”

I was in Benghazi well before, during, and after the attack as a US diplomat and co-director of a medical NGO. I have written three books, and have been a contributor to The NYT, Foreign Affairs, Forbes, Salon, The Financial Times, Newsweek, and others.

By Ethan Chorin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Benghazi! A New History of the Fiasco that Pushed America and its World to the Brink as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On September 11, 2012, Al Qaeda proxies attacked and set fire to the US mission in Benghazi, Libya, killing a US Ambassador and three other Americans.  The attack launched one of the longest and most consequential 'scandals' in US history, only to disappear from public view once its political value was spent. 

Written in a highly engaging narrative style by one of a few Western experts on Libya, and decidely non-partisan, Benghazi!: A New History is the first to provide the full context for an event that divided, incited, and baffled most of America for more than three years, while silently reshaping…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in London, intelligence agency, and naval history?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about London, intelligence agency, and naval history.

London Explore 789 books about London
Intelligence Agency Explore 119 books about intelligence agency
Naval History Explore 26 books about naval history