I learned some basic electronics in high school physics class: resistors, capacitors, Kirchhoff’s law and such, and added only what was required for projects as I did them. Then around 15 years ago I decided to read some books to flesh out what I knew and add to my body of knowledge. It turned out to be hard to find good ones.
The electronics section of my bookcase has a number of what I’d consider duds, but also some gems. Here are the gems. They may not be the electronics-Rosetta-Stone for every hacker, but they are the rock on which I built my church and well worth a spot in your own reading list.
Grob’s Basic Electronics
Grob’s Basic Electronics by Mitchel E Schultz and Bernard Grob is a textbook, one that is easy to read yet very thorough. I bought mine from a used books store. The 1st Edition was published in 1959 and it’s currently on the 12th edition, published in 2015. Clearly this one has staying power.
I refer back to it frequently, most often to the chapters on resonance, induction and capacitance when working on LC circuits, like the ones in my crystal radios. There are also things in here that I couldn’t find anywhere else, including thoroughly exhaustive online searches. One such example is the correct definitions and formulas for the various magnetic units: ampere turns, field intensity, flux density…
I’d recommend it to a high school student or any adult who’s serious about knowing electronics well. I’d also recommend it to anyone who wants to reduce frustration when designing or debugging circuits.
You can find the table of contents here but briefly it has all the necessary introductory material on Ohm’s and Kirchhoff’s laws, parallel and series circuits, and so on but to give you an idea of how deep it goes it also has chapters on network theorems and complex numbers for AC circuits. Interestingly my 1977 4th edition has a chapter on vacuum tubes that’s gone in the current version and in its place is a plethora of new ones devoted to diodes, BJTs, FETs, thyristors and op-amps.
You can also do the practice problems and self-examination, just to make sure you understood it correctly. (I sometimes do them!) But also, being a textbook, the newest edition is expensive. However, a search for older but still recent editions on Amazon turns up some affordable used copies. Most of basic electronics hasn’t changed and my ancient edition is one of my more frequent go-to books. But it’s not the only gem I’ve found. Below are a few more.
Radio Shack Basic Electronics
I’d also recommend Radio Shack Basic Electronics by Gene McWhorter and Alvis J. Evans. It’s an intermediate book, one for a high school student or adult new to electronics. It doesn’t have the quantity of material that the much longer Grob’s Basic Electronics has but it is detailed while being easy to understand, if you take your time. I read most of it during free time on a 2 week business trip.
I refer back mostly to its chapter on semiconductors: diodes, bipolar transistors and FETs. Along with the necessary information on how to use them in circuits, there are also very detailed explanations of the science behind how they work. It also covers the expected laws, resistors, capacitors, DC, AC and resonance, as well as amplifier, oscillators and quite a bit of detail on digital circuits.
Getting Started In Electronics
And for the person who’s never even connected an LED to a battery there’s Getting Started in Electronics by Forrest M. Mimms, III. However, it’s also great for any hacker like me who wants to fill in the gaps, as it’s surprisingly detailed. Anyone who’s bought books at Radio Shack will probably recognize Mimms’ name as that’s where the book was originally sold, along with his equally wonderful Engineer’s Mini-Notebook series, also in my bookcase.
This was actually the first book I read when I started filling in my gaps. I enjoyed its simple explanations with fun, yet complete diagrams, but what I really liked were the 100 sample circuits to try at the end of the book. Actually seeing a working circuit reassured me that I was on the right track. I even later used its light flasher circuit when testing a homemade electrolytic capacitor.
The book starts out with atoms, electrostatics, current, and so on, gently working its way to the components. For that it starts with the simple ones like resistors and capacitors before moving on to the semiconductors such as diodes, transistors and MOSFETs and ending with photonic semiconductors.
And if you’re like me and want to understand the science behind things then it goes into a fair level of detail there too. For example, before going into semiconductors it explains how p-type and n-type silicon doping works.
Everyone has their favorite basic electronics books, the ones they grew up with whether at home or in school. Like me you probably even still refer back to them. We’d be delighted if you’d let us know what they are, both for our own interest and for the benefit of other Hackaday readers. And if you have anything to say about the selections above, let us know that too.