This is a collection of Nicholson Baker's essays from the 90s to 2011, taking in subjects as far ranging as libraries and their stock, bits of string, learning to play "Modern Warfare" on Xbox, reviewing the Kindle, as well as providing short bios of Steve Jobs and David Remnick. As you would expect, the essays vary in quality but for the most part they are entertaining, informative, and compulsively readable.
I actually read his article on Kindle 2 a couple of years ago in the New Yorker and still found it interesting to re-read even if his arguments are moot as a lot of the problems he identifies - screen transitions and resolution, placement of buttons - have been fixed in newer versions of the device. But after Baker's effusive recommendation of Michael Connelly's novel "The Lincoln Lawyer", I ended up reading it, loving it, and reading and loving more of Connelly's books - and to you reading this, I as effusively recommend "The Lincoln Lawyer".
Baker writes fascinating and funny articles on Wikipedia, Google, Daniel DeFoe and his book "A Journal of the Plague Year", and David Remnick. He's also able to take mundane objects like string and turn them into hypnotic essays, while I thought the structure of his essay of events that happened one summer to be an inspired and riveting approach to memory and recollection, as well as some vivid and poetic observations.
Not that the whole book was brilliant, I did have some problems with a few essays. The book is divided up into categories like "Life", "Reading", "Technology", "War" and so on. His numerous articles on libraries and archiving went on a bit too long. The first few were interesting to read but by the end of the section "Libraries and Newspapers" I didn't want to read any more essays critiquing libraries sending thousands of stack books to the dump. I get it, you like old stuff, move on!
I abandoned his essay on gondolas as it was too boring - Baker has a habit, oftentimes good, of over-describing things and while I usually enjoy this approach, the extensive descriptions of gondolas and their history overwhelmed me with boredom. The same could be said of his description of a protest march in DC against the wars in the Middle East, while his essay on computer games was strangely humourless and uninteresting. It read like exactly what it was: an old man doing something he hadn't done before because he knew he wouldn't enjoy it and proving that he was right while misunderstanding why people younger than him enjoy them. Disappointing.
While it's not a perfect collection, when I read an essay I liked, it was always brilliant and enlightening and I can away feeling wiser and happier, and that's a rare gift for any writer to possess. Also having read a number of Baker's novels it's interesting to see the passing interests he mentions being the root of certain books. Like he mentions studying how to write erotic novels in 2006 and, sure enough, in 2011 he published an erotic novel called "House of Holes" while his essays on libraries led to his book "Double Fold" and his discovery of newspaper articles from the 1930s would lead to his controversial revisionist history book "Human Smoke". Altogether "The Way The World Works" is an oftentimes brilliant collection of essays from a superb writer which is well worth a look even if you end up skipping a few articles along the way.