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

4.5 out of 5 stars 58 customer reviews

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Frequently Bought Together

  • Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words
  • +
  • What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions
  • +
  • The De-Textbook: The Stuff You Didn't Know About the Stuff You Thought You Knew
Total price: CDN$ 62.75
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 64 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Nov. 10 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0544668251
  • ISBN-13: 978-0544668256
  • Product Dimensions: 22.9 x 1.5 x 33 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 726 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars 58 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,151 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


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.''-

"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.", 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."

"[ 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


"To reinvigorate 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."

"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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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A little too dumbed-down to be really interesting or helpful; it should have proper names for things at least in an index at the back. It's effort use the simplest language possible seems a little contrived for in many of cases they could have just said what something does/is in plain English and it would have actually been more sensible. Some examples are: Space Boat for Space Ship, Hot Wet Air/Steam, Hallways/Pipes, Thinking Bag/Brain. I realize the spirit of this book is just for fun and to give people a very basic idea of how things work, but it's a little irritating when you actually have to translate the silly names back to normal English to understand what the author is really saying.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Love this book. It took a while to get through as I kept going back and scanning to make sure I didn't miss anything. Very satisfying and educational, if you can understand and appreciate the premise of the author and what he was trying to achieve.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have enjoyed XKCD over the years, it gets read immediately on Monday/Wednesday/Friday mornings. I have also tremendously enjoyed Munroe's "What if" book, which seemed to encourage curiosity in both my geeky and non-geeky friends :)

This book is tougher to figure out the audience for.

I was hoping to buy several copies for my nieces and nephews, 8-13 years old, but I feel it would not be appropriate for them. It explains very complex subjects, and though the _words_ are simple, the explanation and sentence structure are not. It is therefore definitely not a children's book.

For adults, it's a mixed bag as well:
- If you know the subject matter, you will laugh at some interesting phrases ("Dragon capsule" is "pretend fire animal ship":). However, you might be frustrated as well, as you try to remember the actual words for things (for example, in the cell description, since I've taken biology 20 years ago, I struggled to figure out if he's describing a mitochondria, nucleus, or what...).
- If you do not already have prior knowledge of the thing it's describing, you might not actually learn much. You'll have a gleam of basic functions, but too much is left to be desired.

One unexpected side-effect of the book therefore, is a heightened appreciation of the need for specific words in our communication. I have always thought that many books & papers use needlessly complex words and phrases that turn off outsiders who might otherwise have sufficient desire, intelligence and background knowledge. While I still believe that simplicity and clarity of communication should be every author's goal, I now understand the value of words which clearly and specifically describe something.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I loved his "What if" book, but the gimmick of only using a limited set of words wore off really quickly with this one and became annoying.

There's a joke from the Simpsons, where Homer couldn't remember the word "spoon" and referred to it as "that thing you use to dig food." Pretty funny once, but imagine different iterations of that one joke repeated 50 times per page for an entire book.
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Format: Hardcover
On the physical book the quality was very good, though one negative is the fold-out diagrams which are prone to popping out while turning pages, so if you casually flip through you may inadvertently crease a page if it slips out (see picture). Both copies of Thing Explainer I received had creases and kinks in the rear fold-out because of this. Beyond that, the book looks incredibly good, has nice thick pages, and a good cover; just be careful about turning the pages and opening/closing the book.

On the content it's *exactly* what it advertises to be; complex diagrams with oversimplified language, and it can cause some mental gymnastics to interpret exactly what is being said. This isn't a book you'll read cover-to-cover nor is it educational, and it's essentially a play on one big gag; not like "What If" which is both interesting and entertaining, this is only "one joke" and you won't learn anything new. Even if you do, you won't know the "real" terminology as the book never breaks from "simple-speak". I easily see it being picked up occasionally to read a diagram or two before being put back. Visually every page looks like a blueprint (black, blue, white) and it has a very "engineering textbook" feel to it. Most part diagrams are played with a straight face, only having the occasional trademark stick-people romping around; the joke is the text, not the imagery.

It's definitely a "coffee table" book which you or a guest may pull out for a few minutes between other things. It's not for dedicated reading, and I imagine reading this in one go will probably drop your IQ a bit. Overall the book is pretty wonderful fun, high quality, and attractive.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Great book. Everything defined in simple words. Big names simplified to the point where it confused adults. Brought it to show some kids that I work with and they LOVED this book. The only problem was that I didn't know all the names of all the ridiculously named objects.

The best part of this book is that it drove me to actually research and learn what these things and parts were called. It somewhat renewed my thirst for knowledge and understanding.
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