The Art of Electronics - Horowitz and Hill (1)

I've become bored of waiting to finish long books before reviewing them. As this is another thousand page textbook, it seems like a perfect starting point. So, I'm now reviewing chapters 1-6, which form the 'analogue core' of the book.

Horowitz and Hill is, of course, the bog standard big electronics book. It's been kicking around on my shelf for years, and I've tried getting into it from time to time, but never really made it. Starting doing some DIY electronics has encouraged me to get into it properly. It does work very nicely as a reference - individual chapters and sections stand alone very well. Indeed, this is how I started reading it, and it has worked very well.

This patchy approach has built up my understanding without bogging me down in the painful transistor theory at the start of the book. It's a real shame that it has to start with this, since it's... well... pretty off-putting. Once over the hump of Chapters 2 and 3 (bipolar and FET transistors), the rest is relatively easy reading. Indeed, nowadays you probably won't be doing so much work with discrete transistors, so I feel less guilty for skimming this material!

I still find transistors tricky things, even if I understand them a little more. Ebers-Moll is still pretty mysterious, but I'm happy with the current-multiplier model. Indeed, I find transistors nutty as a basic building block. If you wanted to design a primitive to build upon, the transistor's weird behaviours would not be it. The fact we can build up complicated structures from abstractions based on top of them is pretty magical.

So, when it comes to op-amps, I now feel rather more confident. Generally, I now have a much better mental toolkit to deal with circuits. I've moved away from just thinking about voltages, and now can also see the circuits in terms of currents - lots of stereotyped design is about making stiff current or voltage sources/sinks. Indeed, this is another thing - breaking a circuit made of lots of many componenets into the various little stereotyped elements, glued together - reading the circuit as words, rather than puzzling out each letter.

However, by finally understanding electronics just that little bit better, I now understand how complicated it is, and how much there is. Despite the fact this is a big textbook, it's still just skimming the surface of the subject. Chapter 5's active filters discusses many filters, but only provides the results - all the theory is completely ignored for space, and it looks pretty deep. From what I've read on crystal oscillators, a one line throw-away in this book might mean reading a few dozen pages elsewhere to understand it.

This is the second edition, published in 1989, and that's the latest there is. The cutting edge of electronics moves quickly, so I'm sure plenty has changed, but at the same time much of the basics stay the same. As I'm no electronics expert, I can't tell how much is now horribly dated, and how much isn't. On the other hand, the billions of data sheets and parametric searches on the internet make a lovely companion to this book. Opinion so far: Great buy.

Posted 2010-07-17.