The Glory of a Four-Volume Set
A numbered set of four hardcover books in bright orange that all but announce that you are a brilliant inventor. That's what you get with Ingenious Mechanisms for Designers and Inventors. Looks alone may not be enough for most people to buy this set, but when combined with the wealth of information contained within, it was certainly enough for me. I am very happy with my decision. Read on to find out why.
Lots and Lots of Machines
There are a huge assortment of multi-component mechanisms described in great detail in this four-volume set. The books offer multiple solutions for each category of machine. The organization of the material is a little clunky; you will need to browse all four books to find all of the possible solutions for a given mechanical challenge. That's OK: it just means you get to look exceptionally brilliant when someone comes upon you reading all four books at once.
The machines depicted in the books are of an historical nature. This is not a shortcoming, however. Mechanisms of the sort found in these volumes were state-of-the-art at one time. They are a testament to a practical, real-world ingenuity that most of us can't comprehend. These days we would leave the tricky stuff to a computer. The creators of these machines didn't have that option.
Clear Drawings and Heavy Reading
The drawings in the book are very good -- clear and well labeled line art reminiscent of patent drawings. Here's a sample of what you can expect:
Be prepared to spend some time with these books; they require some careful reading of several pages to understand how a given device works. It's not exactly a quick reference, but it is comprehensive.
Uses beyond Vanity: Education and Inspiration
I have not used much from these books directly in any of my automata projects. For automata makers, the more complex systems may seem like a lot to digest. Nevertheless, there are hundreds of mechanical elements that certainly could be used in an automaton or kinetic sculpture. I can say that these books have greatly improved my understanding of complex machines and they have served as inspiration on more than one occasion.
Let's Talk about the Price. Worth it?
The first glance, the price might set you off. Bear in mind that each of the four volumes weighs in at 500 pages or more. That's 2000 pages of detailed information on mechanical devices! The last time I checked (August, 2012) the set was selling for $108 (at 25% off). That comes out a little over $0.05 per page! Compared to less expensive books on mechanisms and devices, this set is actually quite a good deal -- especially if you factor in the free shipping of four heavy books.
While probably not the first book on mechanical devices you should buy, it is a set than any serious student of the subject should have. Here is where you can learn more and order you own set of Ingenious Mechanisms for Designers and Inventors