Wiley's (first) corporate history contains some interesting comments on both handbooks and the theatra machinarum:
"It was, in fact, this change in technique that led to the replacement of apprenticeship by the more effective methods of the classroom--that is, to the birth of the modern engineering school. Wiley's story and that of American education have developed simultaneously." (pg. 111) The author is, of course, referring to the rise of the academic textbook and the handbook.
The book also contains some very interesting comments on the history of the TM:
"But Leonardo held his ideas in secret as part of his 'stock in trade,' whereas the publication of the notebooks of his successors not only marked a new era in the exchange of professional knowledge but also the advent of the technical publisher in the mechanical field. It is only in comparatively recent years that Leonardo's wonderful drawings and notes have been seen, but in 1579 one of the first of these machinery notebooks, that by Jacques Besson, 'Theaters of Machinery,' was published in France. Remelli's [sic] famous 'Diverse and Artificial Machines' followed in 1588, with a Paris imprint. It is a wonderful and beautiful book illustrating and describing water wheels and pumps--all the machines of an age when man and animal power were supplemented only by the uncertain gifts of wind and water. Zonca's Italian work of 1607 was another of these pioneer machine publications of the pioneer technical publisher." (pg. 124)