Geeks of the world, assemble! Ever wonder how a dictionary, a NASA telescope, or a handcrafted wooden globe gets made? Spoiler alert: a lot of hands on deck and a lot of time and effort. These three new books break down the process and the history.

The Dictionary People: The Unsung Heroes Who Created the Oxford English Dictionary

Sarah Ogilvie. Knopf, $29.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-593-53640-7
“I am sure that lovers of our language will not willingly let die the names of those who... have labored in the cause of the Dictionary,” wrote Oxford English Dictionary editor James Murray in 1892. In this charming debut history, Ogilvie, another former editor of the OED, answers her predecessor’s 130-year-old imperative. After stumbling upon Murray’s leather-bound diaries and address books in the OED archives, Ogilvie set out to uncover “the dictionary people,” 3,000 individuals across the globe who heeded the call to be part of the largest crowdsourcing effort in history. Invited through newspaper notices to “read the books they had to hand, and to mail to the Editor of the Dictionary examples of how particular words were used,” individuals from all walks of life responded, including “three murderers, a pornography collector, Karl Marx’s daughter, a President of Yale, the inventor of the tennis-net adjuster, a pair of lesbian writers who wrote under a male pen name, and a cocaine addict found dead in a railway station lavatory.” Ogilvie not only introduces readers to a fascinating cross-section of Victorian society, but notes the groundbreaking nature of the OED project; for example, “the radical and open process of the Dictionary’s making... included hundreds of women” at a time when they were often excluded from academic pursuits. The whimsical narrative is also educational, providing extensive insight into the process used to trace the origins of words. Readers will be enthralled. (Oct.)

Inside the Star Factory: The Creation of the James Webb Space Telescope, NASA’s Largest and Most Powerful Space Observatory

Chris Gunn and Christopher Wanjek. MIT, $44.95 (200p) ISBN 978-0-262-04790-6
Photographer Gunn and journalist Wanjek (Spacefarers) offer a fascinating close-up of the development of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. Tracing the “three decades of planning, building, sweating, and fretting” that preceded the telescope’s launch, the authors describe the project’s conception during a 1989 meeting of astronomers and engineers who brainstormed what NASA’s next big initiative should be after the launch of the Hubble telescope, deciding on a space-based telescope more than twice as large as Hubble and capable of observing “the first generations of stars and galaxies” with infrared-sensitive instruments. The authors discuss the political savvy and engineering ingenuity required to make the telescope a reality, noting that the cost of the project was likely deliberately lowballed at $1 billion to secure congressional approval in the late 1990s (the final price tag was almost $10 billion) and that keeping the telescope’s instruments at the optimal -382 ˚F required the construction of a sunshield “the size of a tennis court.” The account of how NASA overcame logistical hurdles to complete the telescope impresses, but the real appeal of this generously illustrated volume is Gunn’s photos of engineers constructing and testing the telescope inside NASA’s workshop. It’s an intimate view of an astounding scientific achievement. Illus. (Oct.)

The Globemakers: The Curious Story of an Ancient Craft

Peter Bellerby. Bloomsbury, $30 (240p) ISBN 978-1-63973-156-5
In this comprehensive debut, Bellerby, founder of Bellerby & Co Globemakers, traces the genesis of his company and explores the nuances of constructing handmade world globes. In 2008, Bellerby decided he wanted to give his father a globe for his 80th birthday. Dissatisfied with the modern and expensive antique models he came across, he resolved to make a “foray into globemaking,” a craft that dates back to Martin Behaim’s Erdapfel (“Earth apple”) of the late 15th century. Bellerby provides an up-close picture of a painstaking art, which requires painters, woodworkers, moldmakers, and cartographers, and details some of the early challenges he faced, including getting Earth’s shape right (it’s an “oblate spheroid,” not quite a sphere). Along the way, he weaves in bits of globemaking history, hearkening back to the 18th century’s “second age of exploration,” during which globes were invaluable to merchants plotting trade routes, and the 19th century, when the development of photo engraving improved globemakers’ accuracy. While this sometimes reads as an extended advertisement for the author’s business (“We continue to strive for perfection, keep abreast of cartographical and political changes and are constantly updating our maps”), readers will be fascinated by Bellerby’s reverential and sometimes existential musings (“There’s nothing like a globe to make us really think about our place in the universe”), which are enriched by stunning photos of the globemaking process. It’s a fascinating deep dive into an arcane art. (Oct.)