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The Art of Electronics; 3rd edition review

by Chris Francis

In 1980, the book "The Art of Electronics" was published, written by Paul Horowitz and Winfield Hill. For many people, myself included, it became the first book you picked up when you needed to know anything related to analog electronics. It was intended as a course textbook but became a designers reference book for many people. In 1989 they brought out the second edition and so I replaced my first edition. It has been a long wait but in 2015 the third edition was finally published. I have only just bought my copy, so was it worth the 26-year wait?

A lot has changed in 26 years, but the fundamentals of electronics haven't. However, devices have changed, materials have changed (e.g. SiGe and SiC for example, although not covered in the new edition as far as I can see) and device speeds have increased dramatically. Circuit simulation has now become commonplace. Whereas "Analog modeling tools" was less than a page in the second edition, there is more reference to SPICE in the new edition. Surface mount technology has now been included.

art of electronics.jpg

It is difficult to compare two books of more than 1000 pages in a few words. The text of the new book is smaller and the pages larger so there is a lot more in there even though the number of pages is similar. Device tables have been updated to reflect modern devices. For example, the instrumentation amplifier table now includes devices such as the INA333 which didn't exist back in 1989. The device tables reflect the rise of CMOS analog which was not suitable for low noise or precision circuits in 1989.

The addition of illustrative "Designs by the Masters" sounded a bit pretentious but when I first came across one in the book — Agilent's "multislope" converters — it is actually an analysis of a real world device, putting the theory into practice, so to speak, and seemed OK. Each chapter now has a "review" at the end which is really a summary and presumably aimed at its use as a course text. Similarly, the exercises in each chapter.

Digital filtering now gets more than a passing description, as do delta-sigma converters. Again, device tables reflect modern devices, which is what you need. PLLs are covered in more detail with more information on stability, phase shifts and loop gain calculations. Handy rules of thumb are included as well as the theory and calculations.

One of the reasons the first two "Art of Electronics" editions were so popular was that they were practical. They showed real components, real circuits and hints and tips. Many reference books present theory with very little practical information. Theory is still important, but design engineers often just need to get a design done quickly - with deadlines and budgets to meet.

While I tend to consider the "Art of Electronics" as an analog book, it has always had some digital and microprocessor content. This content has been increased which reflects the trend to more digital processing nowadays. It covers areas where digital is taking over (or has taken over) such as digital video replacing analog video. It also covers a bit of everything related to microcontrollers and their peripherals although CPLDs and FPGAs seem to get minimal coverage. However, while areas such as the CAN bus and DDS get some coverage, I still think it is aimed at the analog engineer. In that respect it suits me - I am an analog design engineer who uses microcontrollers, FPGAs and DDS chips and have designed high speed digital video links as well as analog video. The book seems to target my needs very well - I want a crossover book - and I suspect a large number of engineers. I have noticed it also being favored by digital designers who need to add some analog to their designs.

A look at the preface to the third edition shows where the major additions have been. Rather than repeating it here, have a look at their web site Not only are there significant digital additions, but major updating of the information on precision and low noise design. Transimpedance amplifiers now get extensive coverage where they were barely covered before, with bootstrapping and other techniques for improving bandwidth and isolating capacitance covered. Such techniques were usually only found in specialized books or published papers. With switching regulators and switched mode power supplied now the standard, the power conversion chapter has been extensively updated.

So, do I recommend the book? Absolutely. Is it worth replacing your first or second edition? Certainly. I haven't noticed things being removed except maybe old devices that are no longer relevant or used, and the additions seem extensive. It must have been a mammoth task to update it, and they seem to have done an excellent job.

Serious geeks could watch the interview between Ladyada and Paul Horowitz on YouTube where you get a bit of insight into how the book came about and one of the men behind it.
ISBN 978-0-521-80926-9

(this review first apepared on


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