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Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words Hardcover – November 24, 2015

4.1 out of 5 stars 605 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“Brilliant…a wonderful guide for curious minds.”—Bill Gates
 
“Like any good work of science writing, [Thing Explainer] is equal parts lucid, funny, and startling.’’—NewYorker.com

"Clever, intricate"New York Magazine, The Approval Matrix ("highbrow, brilliant")

"Funny, precise and beautifully designed" —The Guardian

"...with witty, playful diagrams, you'll be understanding nuclear reactors ('heavy metal power buildings') in no time." —NPR.org, Best Books of 2015

"Whimsical...Munroe’s masterpiece is the antidote to scientific jargon, ably demonstrating that not knowing the exact name for something doesn’t mean you can’t grasp how it works. The same holds for those doing the explaining: you don’t need to use big words to convey meaning. If anything, it just gets in the way." —Gizmodo, Best Science Books of 2015

"Required reading for the curious." —Popular Science

"This book is a feast for the eyes and a party for your brain. I cannot more highly recommend that you get this for yourself, your favorite nerd, or someone who just loves beautiful drawings." —Scientific American

"One of the charms of this new book is that it imbues everything between its covers with a childlike and unpretentious sense of delight in humanity's intellectual achievements."—Tor.com

"[Thing Explainer] soars in both explanatory clarity and entertainment value...Munroe delightfully challenges us to reassess our preconceptions and think of things in new ways." —American Scientist

“Munroe’s signature humor and firm grasp on the underlying science and engineering make the book a delightful and informative read.” —Science Magazine

"Thing Explainer overall is unintimidating and engaging, with lavish blueprint-like illustrations that draw you into just about every page...Munroe has a gift for turning his own curiosity into your own edification."  —CNET

"I think a lot of people will have a lot of fun reading this book. Even if you know many big ideas, it is fun to see them get very small. And if you just want to learn about how things work, then the book will show you some big ideas without hitting you with big words too. As an idea for how to write a book, I think Thing Explainer is a good one." —Nerdist

PRAISE FOR WHAT IF?
 
"Toreinvigorate your sense of cosmic wonder...breeze through former NASA scientist Munroe's lively answers—peppered with line drawings—to some pretty bizarre questions about life, the universe, and everything else...Extreme astrophysics and indecipherable chemistry have rarely been this clearly explained or this consistently hilarious."Entertainment Weekly "10 Best Nonfiction Books of the Year"
 
"Catchy and approachable...There's plenty of scientific rigor behind his elaborate explanations but he punctuates them with sly humor and winningly primitive cartoon diagrams...A cut above so many popular science and technology books."—NPR.org
 
"Consistently fascinating and entertaining...Munroe leavens the hard science with whimsical touches...An illuminating handbook of methods of reasoning."Wall Street Journal
 
"Education should aim to teach people to reason confidently about problems that they have never come across before. This book is a great deal of fun, and a masterclass in such reasoning. Like all the best lessons, you only realise you’ve learned something once you’ve finished it."The Economist
 
"Munroe takes inane, useless and often quite pointless questions asked by real humans (mostly sent to him through his website), and turns them into beautiful expositions on the impossible that illuminate the furthest reaches, almost to the limits, of the modern sciences…The answers are all illustrated with XKCD’s trademark stick figures...and these are eminently approachable." Newsweek
 
"What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions includes old favorites, new inquiries and the mix of expert research and accessible wit that has made Munroe a favorite among both geeks and laymen." TIME
 
"Loaded with the same dry wit and blank-faced stick figures that populate xkcd, What If? is that rare book that will have you laughing as you learn just how a mass extinction might unfold."Discover

From the Inside Flap

From the creator of the webcomic xkcd and author of the #1 New York Times bestseller What If?, a series of brilliantly—and simply!—annotated blueprints that explain everything from nuclear bombs to ballpoint pens

Have you ever tried to learn more about some incredible thing, only to be frustrated by incomprehensible jargon? Randall Munroe is here to help. In Thing Explainer, he uses line drawings and only the thousand (or, rather, “ten hundred”) most common words to provide simple explanations for some of the most interesting stuff there is, including:
  • food-heating radio boxes (microwaves)
  • tall roads (bridges)
  • computer buildings (datacenters)
  • the shared space house (the International Space Station)
  • the other worlds around the sun (the solar system)
  • the big flat rocks we live on (tectonic plates)
  • the pieces everything is made of (the periodic table)
  • planes with turning wings (helicopters)
  • boxes that make clothes smell better (washers and dryers)
  • the bags of stuff inside you (cells)
How do these things work? Where do they come from? What would life be like without them? And what would happen if we opened them up, heated them up, cooled them down, pointed them in a different direction, or pressed this button? In Thing Explainer, Munroe gives us the answers to these questions and so many more. Funny, interesting, and always understandable, this book is for anyone—age 5 to 105—who has ever wondered how things work, and why.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 64 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (November 24, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0544668251
  • ISBN-13: 978-0544668256
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 0.6 x 13 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (605 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #338 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book shows you that understanding how something works and knowing its name are different. In doing so, it makes you consider when and why it's actually important to use a special name for some things, and think harder about what your words are really telling people. The point of this book is not to explain things as well and as quickly as possible. It's to help you use your thinking bag in a different way than you do every day. That's why it's so much fun to read.
I'm a teacher at a school for people who already know a lot, and who are very good at what they do. (I teach them about power for our lights and machines.) We use big words and special names all the time. But I sometimes ask my students to try explaining complicated stuff using only simple words, because when you do that, you find out whether you really understand it. It forces you to ask, what is the most important idea here? I wish more teachers did this.
Putting ideas into simple words can also help you recognize how different words carry meaning other than just telling you what something is. This is especially true for things that people often have strong feelings about, like the laws of the land, or our body parts for making new people, or machines for burning cities. Special words can quietly suggest if something is a good or a bad idea, or cover up bad feelings. Playing the game of using only simple words can help you see things more clearly for what they actually are, and say just what you mean. So, this book shows us a way to pay special attention to how our own thinking bag works. And I think that's really, really cool.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
...because the details of the diagrams do not translate well to the smaller Kindle. You'll need all 13 x 9 inches to understand and appreciate the illustrations and explanations.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The thing about this book is that it only uses the ten hundred most used words by people to tell you about things that are hard to understand. It makes it sound kind of strange because you hear some words over and over again, but all in all, it is a very fun book to look at.

The man that wrote the book wrote about "Under a car's front cover" and the "US Space Team's Up Goer Five" and lots of things that have to do with a "Sky Boat." There is a page about "Colors of Light" but it is in black and white, so it is not as good as other pages. There is a big table in the middle that is "the pieces everything is made of" that has "the stuff they put in pools so nothing bad can grow in them," "brown metal that we use to carry power and voices" and "stuff you drink so doctors can look inside your body" along with all the other rocks and metals and air that is really fun to look at.

I paid money for "Thing Explainer" to put it under the tree for my seven year old, but I will have to read it before he does, I am sure.
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Format: Hardcover
This is one of the funnest books to read, ever.

The 'ten hundred words' limit does not get stale or ever truly 'limit' Munroe - he still manages to write some seriously interesting and educational stuff while keeping it entertaining. The whole way through you'll be making connections between what the simplified words mean and what you know from real life, but you'll also be learning a lot of new things. It's especially great when, through such simple terminology, you find out the answer to a question you never would've considered asking, like how Everest is not the furthest point from the center of earth, and that one of Uranus' moons once orbited the sun.

And that terminology gives way not only to humour but also to an insane amount of charm and sentiment. The introduction reads out like a child trying to explain why they've written a book. I personally love the section at the bottom of the page on "Tall Roads" (bridges) where Munroe writes with a child's voice about how bridges are so physically useful and well constructed, that life on other planets might use very similar models, and that somewhere, an alien might be looking at a bridge just like the one Munroe was looking at, and thinking about Munroe, too.

That kind of sentimentality is, I think, the central staple of Munroe's XKCD, and it only shines brighter in Thing Explainer due to the childlike wonder in the writing. Thing Explainer writes without expectation of understanding, prior knowledge of language, or any prior knowledge; it is one of the closest things to a window into someones thoughts.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Great publishing quality. Super-detailed drawings. Very rich -- you can only consume small portions at a time, just like a wonderful dessert.
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I understand the concept, using only the 1,000 (ten hundred, as the book says) most common words to describe things and also humor, but this is a frustrating book to have around the house. My 12 year old loved it, at first. But while she's reading it she's constantly asking (or googling) what the 'real' name is for something. The examples are countless but especially frequent on the periodic table. All the elements are described with cryptic passages. 'Don't breathe this stuff as dust or you die' or 'metal we add to other metals' or 'metal that tells us about the early earth'. She wants to know which elements all this cool stuff is referring to, but by the 4th or 5th one she's annoyed and puts the book down. The emergency room page describing things as 'pushing machines' or 'person watcher'. Lost count of all the times I heard "Ugh! Just tell me what it is!" Nicely made book, like the size etc, but its just not for us. Would have been better if actual terms were in parenthesis or something.
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