Book review. Every tool is a hammer: Life is what you make it (by Adam Savage)

This book, published in 2019, is from Adam Savage of Mythbuster's fame.

The book is a love letter to making. The book defines making not as the physical act of building but as the audacity of creating: "Making is more than the physical act of building. It's dancing, it's sweing. It's cooking. It's writing songs. It's silk-screening. It's breaking new trails both literally and figuratively."

To me, this book is another manifestation of the "War of Art" book by Steven Pressfield in a different format/domain. This book talks about the resilience, the labor of creativity, and acting in face of a fearful/challenging project, which is also the topic of the War of Art book. The "How to be a Pro" concept discussed in the War of Art book is also explored in depth here. The respect for the craft, the tools, and the requirement to ship something by the deadline defines the professional. "Professional is patient, prepared, acts in face of fear, dedicated to mastering technique."

The book has the following chapters:
1. Dig through the bottom of the rabbit hole
2. Lists
3. Checkboxes
4. Use more cooling fluid
5. Deadlines
6. Drawing
7. Increase your loose tolerance
8. Screw>glue
9. Share
10. See everything, reach everything
11. Cardboard
12. Hammers, blades, scissors
13. Sweep up every day

The book distills hard-earned wisdom from the maker-space, and it turns out these are universal lessons that apply to most creative and crafting, including writing (as in the War of Art book) and research and computer science and engineering (as I try to persuade you via analogies below).

The first chapter is about the resistance. Getting started is always hard, there are so many unknowns, and this can be paralyzing. Adam says he is very lucky due to his temperament, and this is not too much of a problem for him.  His curiosity and obsession makes starting easy for him, and the book doesn't spend much time covering this. If you love what you do, you don't need to work a single day.

Chapters 2 and 3 was a lot of fun. It may be surprising to see chapters on Lists and Checkboxes in a book about making stuff, but if you think about it these are the most universal tools for dealing with complexity, and for staying organized and planning ahead. Surgeons and pilots have checklist. Software engineers also use kanban, todo lists, and task tracking tools. For my own research and planning, I use Emacs Org-Mode, which is also lists and checkboxes. These are essential for getting things done, and keeping your head clear.

Chapter 4, use more cooling fluid, is about the importance of going slow. "Professional is patient, prepared, acts in face of fear, dedicated to mastering technique." If you want to go far, go slow. Do not incur any technical debt. Technical debt bites you back big time.

Chapter 5 is about deadlines, because you have got to ship it, dammit. Deadlines work wonders for getting papers written, features added, and projects completed. Adding unrealistic deadlines doesn't help, but a deadline you set realistically is important for focusing the project, eliminates the decision fatigue (due to too many possible options), and helps getting things wrapped up.

Chapter 6, on drawing, is all about the importance of modeling. As I have been saying for many years, use modeling and TLA+, people! The chapter makes almost the same points for the benefits of using drawing. Closely related to this, Chapter 11, Cardboard, is about the importance of rapid prototyping.

Chapter 7, increase your loose tolerance, is a chapter on fault-tolerance. Chapter 8, screw>glue, is on the importance of modularity. These provide nice analogies in maker space about why building some slack, avoid tight coupling, and maintaining modularity is important, as for computer systems and distributed systems.

Chapter 9 is sharing your work with the community, so everyone, including you, benefit from this act of sharing. This is very applicable for research.  Practicing open research and disseminating results as well as the thought process behind them helps not only the community but the researcher as well. The researcher benefits by getting feedback, making connections, and getting recognition in the community.

Chapter 10 is about mise en place, and Chapter 13, sweep up every day, is again familiar concepts to anyone that is a professional. Professionals develop a respectful relationship with their craft and tools.

Chapter 12, hammers, blades, scissors, are about... actual hammers, blades, scissors. Ha, ha, I couldn't find an analogy or deep message here. In this chapter, he reviews some common types and gives tips for the makers/builders when choosing these tools.

I listened to this audiobook from Adam Savage's voice, and it was quite the treat. It looks like he Adam had some theater background, before his many years as a show host, so his voice is very well trained and his passion for making comes through the reading crystal clear.

Bits or Atoms?

I am more of a bits person, but I can't deny that making/creating physical things have a different level of attraction/joy for me. I felt very happy, the first time I baked a bread with the bread machine. When I fix things around the house or build something, I feel proud. Writing papers is fun, but even at the end of it, I like to print the paper, and hold it physically to inspect it.

We have undeniable affinity to the physical, and this is why it can be a really good idea to use props in teaching.


Bekir Sait said…
I love & utilize your book reviews a lot. Thanks professor.

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