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Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words Hardcover – November 24, 2015
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In Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words, things are explained in the style of Up Goer Five, using only drawings and a vocabulary of the 1,000 (or "ten hundred") most common words. Explore computer buildings (datacenters), the flat rocks we live on (tectonic plates), the things you use to steer a plane (airliner cockpit controls), and the little bags of water you're made of (cells).
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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.
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.
Enter Randall Munroe, famed “xkcd” webcomic author and an all around smart guy. In late 2012, he published a comic that described each of the systems in NASA’s Saturn V rocket with simple words. Described as “U.S. Space Team’s Up Goer Five,” the concept of using shorter, more common words to explain complicated concepts came to its full fruition in Thing Explainer. Using the thousand most common words, Munroe manages to humorously and thoroughly explain such “things” as the U.S. Constitution, The International Space Station, and the Large Hadron Collider (amongst many other common and complicated ideas).
While the concept is fun and this book could easily be used to help children understand these fascinating ideas, the thousand-word constraint is also its biggest weakness. Sure, I could deduce that “shafts” were usually “sticks” (or “hallways” if they were like mine shafts), and “fire water” often meant gasoline (or some other combustible fuel). However, I often found myself trying to figure out what the actual name of the item or part in question was because the “simple” name wasn’t self-explanatory. Also, it was sometimes a challenge to read all the small text, as it usually wasn’t arranged in a linear format, instead appearing in chunks around the illustrations to be close to the parts that were being described.
A unique concept to bring advanced technological knowledge to everyone, I give Thing Explainer 4.0 stars out of 5.
The diagrams are fascinating and well drawn, and cover a large range of items such as parts of the body, nuclear power plants, the Earth, household appliances, the US Constitution (both the document and the ship), and various flying machines. I'm glad I bought the actual book rather than the Kindle version, because the writing is very small and also there are some pages that pull out to show extra large diagrams. The Kindle version simply couldn't compare. The book itself is pretty big, contains a large number of diagrams, and would make a great coffee table book or a gift.
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