The Art of Electronics (AoE) is perhaps the most popular electronics book of all time, often referred to as “the bible”. But while many people, myself included, have found it illuminating, many others deride it for its apparent disorganization and lack of theory. For this reason, there are often heated debates regarding its usefulness as a beginner’s electronics book.
Certainly AoE isn’t “the book” for everyone interested in electronics; I don’t know of a single text that is. But AoE is the book that finally helped me start understanding electronic circuits, something that many other electronics books before it failed to do. So I think it would be beneficial to address the two most common criticisms of AoE that I’ve seen, and discuss why AoE was a great help to me.
The most common complaint I’ve heard is that AoE doesn’t cover enough electronics theory. Yes, it skips much of the complex theory, choosing instead to impart a conceptual, intuitive understanding of electronic components and circuits. That’s not to say that one should ignore the theory, but personally, saying “Clearly, circuit A works this way because: [insert 3 pages of equations here]”, is a terrible approach to teaching, yet one which most college texts seem to prefer. Give me an intuitive gasp of what’s going on first, and the math is going to make a whole lot more sense. AoE provides that intuitive understanding before imparting just enough mathematics to solve practical problems; as long as the intuitive explanation is correct this makes learning more advanced theory later on much easier. Incidentally, this is where most beginners books fail; they simplify things so much that their explanations, while easy to understand, are fundamentally flawed and have to be unlearned later on. AoE strikes a good balance between the theory-heavy college texts and the misleading “electronics made ez” books.
The second complaint that I’ve heard a lot is that AoE “jumps around too much”, particularly in regards to the first chapter. Yes, if you simply flip through the first chapter it does seem rather disorganized; first it discusses resistors, then talks about diodes, then explains AC signals, then moves on to capacitors? Where is the logic in that? The truth is, the order of the first chapter is absolutely brilliant. Most beginner books will start off discussing passive components like resistors, capacitors and inductors, and then maybe introduce you to basic circuits like resistor divider networks. But they never tell you that divider networks don’t have to be made up of resistors! A voltage regulator made up of a zener diode and a resistor is just an “adaptive” divider network, and capacitive divider networks are used for AC signals too (of course, talking about capacitive dividers doesn’t make much sense without an introduction to AC signals first). While other beginner books tend to treat these ideas separately, AoE ties them together right from the start, which, at least for me, provided some much needed understanding of these basic circuits.
So, is AoE the first book you should read when learning electronics? No. Even when coupled with the excellent accompanying student manual, it assumes too much background knowledge for the absolute beginner IMHO.
So, is AoE the book you should grab if you want to learn how to, say, derive the Ebers-Moll equations? No. While it discusses the practical applications of Ebers-Moll, the deep theory is intentionally omitted.
AoE is an intermediate book.
See, the problem is, most beginners books introduce you to the basics like resistors and Ohm’s Law, but don’t teach you enough to apply that knowledge to practical circuits. The typical college text on the other hand tends to be too advanced/intimidating for the beginner.
AoE provides a much needed bridge between “OK, I know Ohm’s Law” and “How the hell does this circuit work??”, while laying the foundation for understanding more advanced circuits and theory. And for that, it is brilliant.