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The Way We Work: Getting to Know the Amazing Human Body
illustrations by David Macaulay



About the Book

From a child gymnast in San Francisco to an elderly doctor in India to an award-winning children’s book creator in Vermont, one thing we all have in common is that each of us has a body. Many of us also share the habit of ignoring it until something goes wrong. The MacArthur "genius" and Caldecott Medalist David Macaulay was no exception. Best known for the international bestseller, The Way Things Work, he’d managed to overlook the most incredible machine of all. Now he has turned his uncanny ability to explain to the human body and the result, The Way We Work (on-sale October 7, 2008), is book like no other!

For Macaulay, it all begins with the cell. Starting with an exploration of these tiny, remarkable building blocks, he takes readers on a stunning visual journey through the major systems of the body, using detailed colored pencil drawings to illustrate how the various parts of our body work both separately and together, coming full circle in the final chapter, where he explains how cells from a man and woman combine to create new life.

To research this extensive book, Macaulay put in years talking and studying with doctors and researchers, attending medical procedures, and laboriously sketching and drawing. He worked with top medical professionals including Dr. Lois Smith, a professor at Harvard University and researcher at Children’s Hospital Boston, as well as medical writer Richard Walker, to ensure the accuracy of both his words and his illustrations. Anne Gilroy, Clinical Anatomist in the Departments of Surgery & Cell Biology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School says of Macaulay, “His remarkable curiosity and meticulous research led him into some of the most complicated facets of the human body yet he tells this story with simplicity, ingenuity and humor.”

Macaulay sat in on anatomy classes and dissections, and even put his hands into cadavers to compare spleen sizes. He observed surgeries, often standing for hours at a stretch, as varied as the removal of a diseased pancreas to a knee replacement. This hands-on investigation gave him unique insight into the way the body works, and the results can be seen in the perspective, detail, and clarity of his illustrations.

Just as he explained the process of building various structures in books such as Mosque, Castle, and Cathedral, Macaulay here constructs the human body in a logical and clear-cut manner, starting with the smallest pieces. Using the same blend of fact and humor that worked so successfully in The Way Things Work, he explains clearly (and humorously) the intricate and varied mechanisms behind the machine that is the human body. The curiosity and wonder that are the hallmark of all of Macaulay’s books are clearly present in this important volume. “What began as a simple desire to better understand my own inner workings has become an opportunity to display both my wonder and gratitude,” says Macaulay.

The Table of Contents is indicative of the tone of the book—lighthearted and clever— while the seven chapters clearly explain the varied and complex systems that make up our bodies.

  • Building Life
    An awe-inspired introduction to cells, the amazing entities that build our bodies.
  • Air Traffic Control
    A lively look at the circulatory system and respiratory systems
  • Let’s Eat
    Follow the journey food takes from the moment it enters your mouth until it exits the body—the digestive system in motion.
  • Who’s in Charge Here?
    The human brain makes its owner one of the smartest creatures on the planet, thanks to the nervous and endocrine systems.
  • Battle Stations
    This chapter on the immune and lymphatic systems details daily assaults on our bodies and the various ways we fight against them.
  • Moving On
    The delicate dance of the musculoskeletal system that allow us to move without even thinking about it.
  • Extending the Line
    The reproductive system gives humans the insurance policy that guarantees we continue as a species.

An extensive glossary, index, and appendix are included, allowing for quick answers and easy reference. An informative and entertaining read from cover to cover, The Way We Work is also perfect for browsing and each chapter—each spread—stands alone. All who have ever wondered why their neck hurts, or how their food is digested; how someone gets sick, how someone gets better, or how life is created—The Way We Work is for them. An essential addition to any home, school, or public library, this book will have readers of all ages and from all walks of life.

David Macaulay’s artwork is being showcased in two separate exhibits traveling the country. His The Way We Work exhibit, out of the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature in Abilene, Texas, opened in April 2008. It lays out for visitors the creative process behind The Way We Work, from sketches through design decisions to finished pieces. It presents the rare opportunity to witness how a highly-illustrated volume is produced, in some cities before the finished book is even available! David Macaulay: The Art of Drawing Architecture, created by the National Building Museum in Washington DC, is an interactive, family-friendly exhibit showcasing Macaulay’s unique and creative approach to illustrating architecture. Both exhibits are traveling nationally, and show the broad range of readership for all of Macaulay’s work.

About the Author

David Macaulay has received both a MacArthur Fellowship, recognizing “creativity, originality, and potential to make important contributions in the future,” and a Caldecott Medal for Black and White, in addition to many other awards and accolades.His readers include kids, parents, teachers, and librarians.

For more information on Mr. Macaulay and his body of work, visit www.thewayweworkbook.com.

A Conversation with David Macaulay

Why the human body? Did you run out of buildings to explain?
It’s not a matter of running out of buildings—that could never really happen—but rather following my curiosity. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more aware of my body. For one thing, there seems to be more of it. How did that happen!? But also things ache a little more and a little longer after running around with my kids, joints are sore, and so on. I realized that I’ve basically taken this remarkable collection of systems for granted pretty much my whole life while I’ve been looking at everything else. Also as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more aware of my own mortality. People around me have been ill, some have died, and then there’s the natural process of watching your parents get older. The other thing that has happened over the past few years is the incredible growth of knowledge about what makes us work, increasingly at a cellular level. These are the kinds of things that got me thinking that I should understand myself, how I physically work, better.

I considered a project on the human body twenty-five years ago, but it never got done because it didn’t seem important enough at the time. What I’ve got now is not only a much improved understanding of how my body works, but for the first time an overdue appreciation of and gratitude for the fact that it has done so without my knowing.

Can you talk about the research you did for this book?
As with any book, the process began with reading, and there is plenty of material out there. Some of it is very complex and written for people who basically already know everything, and some of it really tries to reach the uninformed but curious people like me. I met and spent lots of time with various experts in various fields. I found a wonderful anatomy teacher who not only made room for me in her class but became a tremendous resource as I tried to wade through an overwhelming amount of new information. I attended the labs with the medical students and shared in their enthusiasm for discovering the human body through dissection. I hadn’t a clue where anything really was in the body except for the obvious things like ribs and heart and brain. But once you’ve slid your hand into the chest cavity along the inner surface of the rib cage and felt the spleen in place, you don’t forget where it is. The next logical question is “What does it do?” As a visiting faculty member of the medical school, an opportunity I was given so that I would have access to any operation I wanted to see, I attended a couple of long, painstaking surgeries during which the pancreas and spleen were removed. I watched a knee replacement.

By the time I was done, I had solicited input from a couple of biochemists to get my cellular facts in order, an infectious disease doctor to look over the immune system chapter, a gastroenterologist for the digestive system, and an orthopedic surgeon for additional input on bone stuff.

What was the most surprising thing or things you learned in your research?
I think the most surprising and relieving thing I learned is that even though the body is a highly complicated collection of systems, there are certain basic ways in which all the pieces work once you get down to the cellular level. The ways various substances—for example, nutrients, building material for repairs, and waste produced by cellular work—are transported around the body, the means by which these things enter and leave cells, is all very logical and surprisingly simple. And much of this happens because the entire community of cells that is us is constantly working to maintain a state of balance. Once you start to think of yourself as a vast community of individual cells that meet their individual needs by working together, by communicating with each other, and by taking on specific tasks, you are reminded of your place in the community of fellow humans and the various roles we can take on for the good of that community.

You mention attending surgeries. Did you actually cut open bodies?
Besides carving up a brain, I never actually had to do my own dissection. I could just watch. And there were plenty of specimens available to me in the lab, real things I could hold and feel and draw. This is particularly important because no matter how good the illustrations were in all the books I went through, until you’ve actually seen and held the object you’re trying to explain, you’re at the mercy of someone else’s interpretation.

What is your favorite system?
Once you understand how fully integrated all the systems are it’s hard to pick a favorite. The one I enjoyed drawing most was the digestive system. It became a journey through a sequence of distinctive landscapes all determined by the function of the system at that particular moment. From the turbulence of a chewing mouth and the abyss of the throat to the lunar landscape of the stomach lining to the mountainous terrain of the small intestine, it was a wonderful journey to take (as long as you’re not the broccoli) and draw.

You have said you now understand why doctors specialize. If you were a doctor, what would you specialize in?
Probably cellular research. There is so much still to learn, and as the equipment gets better and better it is possible to watch these otherwise invisible organisms at work.

Do you look at people, and yourself, differently now?
I do pay more attention to my own body and observe those around me. Now that I have pictures in my head of what an area of the body might look like, or how a particular joint might actually work, I’m able to connect what I am doing or what someone else is doing with the internal architecture and engineering that makes it possible.

Any advice for people on how they should treat their bodies?
With curiosity, respect, and admiration.

How do you think this book is different than other books on the human body?
It is different from a lot of what’s out there because I’ve made every effort through the art to put you where the action is. I hope I have given the book a visual liveliness that conveys, as well as static pictures can, the wonder of the human body by linking what things inside us look like with why they look that way.

If I never got biology, will I understand this book?
I think so. I was never a great student in biology because at the time I took it, ninth grade perhaps, I didn’t really care about it. I don’t think I’m very different from my readers in that I can get excited about something if it matters to me and if it is made accessible to me. This project has taken me through cellular biology, regular biology, physiology, physics, and so on. But I never thought about these things as categories, because I was too interested in wanting to better understand myself.

Of all your books, do you have a favorite? Which came the most naturally?
The most recent book, if it works like you hope it will, and especially if it has taken six years to pull together, including two years of seven-day work weeks, should be your favorite . . . at least initially. I’m hoping this one will be a favorite. If by “most naturally” you mean “easiest,” I’d have to say Why the Chicken Crossed the Road or Motel of the Mysteries. But it is also natural and in fact unavoidable for me to throw myself into projects about which I know almost nothing when I start. The Way We Work is a quintessential example of that kind of madness.

What did you like to read when you were young? What do you read now (when you aren't doing research)?
I read very little for fun, that is to say non-school-related books, before the age of twelve or thirteen. I loved being read to. The Wind in the Willows, Grimm’s fairy tales, Hans Christian Andersen, Thomas the Tank Engine, Ned the Lonely Donkey and especially my “Big Book of Science.” I mostly read the pictures; otherwise I was too busy playing.

Describe your studio, please.
I’m on the second floor, above my wife’s studio and the garage and guest room. It’s a nice big space with oak floors and high ceilings, just the way we found it when we moved in. It was intended by the previous owner to become a small children’s theater. Fortunately, it’s all on one level, no stage, although there is a proscenium. Great views over the neighbor’s gardens and of the surrounding hills. One of the best things about the space is the big blank wall at one end. When I’m working on a book, I’m constantly put sketches on the wall so I can compare them easily with each other. The wall becomes a huge drawing board, of which there are also two more conventional examples in the studio. I use one and my children have a tendency to use the other if I haven’t buried it under books and tracing paper.

If you weren't a book creator, what do you think you would be doing?
Teaching all the time. It’s the only other thing I’m passionate about.

Your first book was published in 1973, and book production has changed immensely since then. How have these changes affected your work?
All the changes have meant to me is having the ability to work in any medium and in either black-and-white or color. But I’ve always felt I could basically do the books I wanted without worrying my little head about production. The earlier architecture books could not have been done in color even if I’d wanted it, which I didn’t, because at their size and length they would simply have been too expensive to produce and therefore difficult to sell.

Who or what has been the biggest influence on you professionally? personally?
After my parents, who have the personal influence award locked up, there are two men tied for the dubious professional as well as considerable personal influence. The first is Walter Lorraine, my editor for the past thirty-five years, and the second is Tom Sgouros, my drawing professor at RISD. Both in their various different ways encouraged me to find and explore this amazing path.


Advance Praise for The Way We Work

*“Nonfiction . . . rarely seems to get the respect it deserves, but Macaulay’s latest ambitious, encyclopedic work commands it."—Horn Book, starred review


2008 Tour for David Macaulay

Fall 2008 Tour David Macaulay

The Way We Work

[Author residence: Norwich VT]

10/7: On-Sale Date

10/07-10/08: New York NY

10/09-10/10: Boston MA

10/11-10/12: Seattle WA

10/13: Portland OR

10/14-10/15: San Francisco CA

10/16: Los Angeles CA

10/17-10/18: Providence RI

10/20-10/21: Washington DC

10/22-10/23: Chicago IL

10/24-10/25: Philadelphia PA

10/26-10/27: Houston TX

11/15-11/16: Milwaukee WI

11/17: Pittsburgh PA

1/19/09: Dallas TX


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