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Book review

Thing Explainer

Complicated Stuff in Simple Words

by Randall Munroe

Thing Explainer by Randall Munroe

Really a very enjoyable book from Randall Munroe, which takes the graphical style of his brilliant going-15-years-and-still-funny xkcd web comic series, adds to it the self-imposed restriction of only using the thousand most common words in English, and pits it against various everyday “things” and attempts to explain them.

You get cross-section views of things like a datacentre (“computer buildings”), dishwashers (“box that cleans food holders”), and laptops (“bending computers”), as well as more abstract things like the US Constitution (“laws of the land”) and the periodic table (“the pieces everything is made of”). Munroe clearly had a lot of fun not just picking the things to explain, but coming up with cute names for them (“sky boat with turning wings” for helicopter, and so on). It’s perhaps a bit more fun if you actually know what he’s talking about, so you can work out what the actual concept he’s getting at is, but it’s fun even when I couldn’t quite get it!

Is this a book you could give to (say) a child, and expect them to learn about microwave ovens, or the Mars Rover? Perhaps not without additional guidance, but for grown-up kids (like me) it’s a delight. It’s charmingly done, and makes a much more entertaining coffee table book than many (physically it’s quite big – 23x34cm, although not super thick at about 1cm).

Four stars for flair and execution, and a bunch of fun.

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