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Book Review: Robot Magic and The Maker Magician Handbook

These are two separate, but related books, by Mario Marchese. He’s a specialist in entertaining children and performs under the name “Mario the Maker Magician.”

The books, like all publications from MAKE: and O’Reilly, are wonderfully designed technical instruction. Marchese’s clear intention is to inspire and encourage young adults, but grown adults can enjoy them too. (Particularly his unrestrained enthusiasm!) The projects and the author have a clear “do-it-yourself-with-what-you-have” vibe, and that permeates all the way through to the list of materials, which frequently reference using pizza boxes as a source of cardboard.

cardboard robot

The audience for the first book, the Handbook, is the most clear. That one focuses on simple (but very clever) magic apparatus and there isn’t much presumption of interest in magic, beyond having picked up the book. The second book, Robot Magic, aims higher with its magical jargon, and its reliance on downloadable starter code. But the physicality of the props that you’re building are given in exhaustive detail. It’s an interesting and contrasting instructional mix, but it avoids a much longer, dry book. It all works.

The book is supplemented by a web collection of sample cut-and-paste code, and videos of many of the projects. This video example at his site is a fine one to start with if you’d like to get a feel for the whole.

I truly enjoyed both books, and I found myself wishing they had existed when I was a youth. I’m more of a software guy, and for the first time I found myself understanding some electrical and mechanical concepts that had never quite sunk in for me. (My micro-servos should arrive soon.) These are widely distributed books, so you can find them almost anywhere, but in the spirit of things, see if your local bookseller or library has them before getting them at the Amazon, eh?

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