I recently had the opportunity to interview Forrest Mims for a book I’m writing about the DIY movement. Forrest is a well-know amateur scientist and the author of more than 30 electronics hobbyist books. He’s also the Country Scientist columnist for MAKE.
Here’s the excerpt from my interview where he discusses the origins of his famous book, Getting Started in Electronics.
That book was a sequel to the original Engineer’s Notebooks. My editor at RadioShack was Dave Gunzel. By that time I’d already written 16 or 17 radio shack books. We were sitting there talking one day and Dave witnessed my laboratory notebooks. He said, “Wow! Your books oughta look like this!” because I printed everything in the notebooks with the little drawings. He said “Your next book has got to be done like your notebooks.”
So the Engineer’s Notebook was done that way. It begins with a typewriter. Then it begins with typewritten pages with hand written symbols and then by the time you get to each of the integrated circuits that is discussed it’s totally hand done. It’s done with india ink on mylar. It was so hard to letter this book that my fingers were bleeding — the middle finger, where you press the india ink pen. And I had really severe writer’s cramp. And also, you can’t make mistakes with india ink. If you make a mistake, you have to start over the whole mylar page.
We extended that to a yellow notebook called Engineer’s Notebook 2, which added some new parts. Those two books together sold well over a couple of million copies. And then they wanted a book on understanding digital computers. I didn’t know how computers worked so I had to figure out how they work. I ended up building a processor on our kitchen table that actually had a four-bit language of micro-instructions that were like six micro-instructions. It had a little card reader I built. Everything was home made and it worked. After I built that I could write that book.
And then the idea of Getting Started in Electronics came up, so I met with Dave Gunzel. Of course it was gonna be hand-lettered. He even suggested using a crayon. I said “You can’t do a book with a crayon. It has to be a pen or a pencil! But I don’t want to use ink again, because it’s too painful.” So we agreed to use a #7 pencil — well, he didn’t agree to it — I just showed him what it would look like. I drew the book. I think the entire book was done in 54 days. I was doing two pages a day.” Getting Started in Electronics sold in the neighborhood of 1.3 million books or more. The first printing of 100,000 copies (cover price $2.49) was gone in the flash of an eye.
(Original scan of book from Jeff of Mighty Ohm, who reviewed the book here. The scan above is from the copy I bought in 1986 for $2.49. Here’s the receipt.)
10 thoughts on “The story of Getting Started in Electronics”
Ah I was just looking for this book in my closet, I haven’t seen it in years. This book got me started in my Make-ing journey. After reading this book cover to cover dozens of times I felt confident I could open anything and modify or fix it.
Reality was I made a mess of a lot of things, but I did make extra pocket cash when I was in high school fixing broken stereos and electronics and then reselling with a 30 day warranty.
Thanks you Mr. Mims III for a great book! Hopefully there was no permanent damage from writing out the whole thing on mylar!
but can you add proper attribution for the cover photo?
Those creases in the cover looked familar, so I went and found this:
Here’s my post from last year about the book and the reason I scanned the cover of my second hand copy of the book:
Thanks for the excerpt from the interview, looking forward to seeing the rest… any more details about the book?
Thanks for doing the interview. Also, for those that don’t have a copy, RadioShack started selling this book again!
Your link to mightyohm.com has an extra space in the word “written” that makes it fail. The link in the comment above is correct.
Thanks! We’ve fixed the link.
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