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Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words Hardcover – November 24, 2015
Best Books of the Year So Far in fiction, nonfiction, mysteries, children's books, and much more.
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“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
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)
Discover books for all types of engineers, auto enthusiasts, and much more. Learn more
Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.Read more ›
Additionally, I can't help feeling that the project of using simple words to explain complex subjects falls flat from time to time; not in the explanation of the subject, but when it cannot be made clear what the subject is. When the book becomes not an explication but a needlessly frustrating mental puzzle, it can be more tiresome than it is worth. This pops up most frequently in the innumerable insets and notes.
In fairness, the book is still amusing and engaging for all of these problems (though most who pick it up seem to put it down again when frustration pulls level with entertainment value) and again, all of this would be fine in a volume that one intended to carefully study over a well-lit desk, but given the book's sheer size and style of binding, this is not practical. The book may be less suitable for adults, and better for intelligent young people with sharp eyes and curious minds.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I don't think the author would buy this book. The pictures are cool.. the words are Dump.Published 5 days ago by D. LAMM
This book doesn't even attempt to be what it purports to be. It's not an explainer of anything; it's an exercise in linguistics. Read morePublished 7 days ago by S. Good
Not as good as "What If", to be perfectly honest. But the book was actually really quite good.Published 7 days ago by Madelynn Conrad
I only wish that the large foldout poster at the end was of the up-goer five instead of the high-rise tower. Randall makes a great book as always -- grab What If? Read morePublished 9 days ago by Jason Ellis
I've always loved Randall's website, xkcd. His up-goer 5 was very funny and so is this book, which is based on that comic.Published 10 days ago by Steven Mello
Very entertaining and educational. However, the Kindle edition is rather hard to read because the pictures are not very high resoultion. Read morePublished 10 days ago by Werdna
Such a great book! I'm a pretty smart person but sometimes have a hard time explaining hints to people and this books helps put things in laments terms.Published 11 days ago by Nate
Honestly, I don't understand this book. My husband aptly put it, it's like it's written using language from the book 1984, newspeak so all undesirable concepts are eradicated! Read morePublished 11 days ago by Sunshine1967