ASK Musings

No matter where you go, there you are.



August 2017



Thing Explainer by Randall Munroe

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for: People looking for fun, quick explanations of common machines (like helicopters or washer/dryers) and nature (like the night sky).

In a nutshell: Creator of xkcd brings his cute drawings and research skills to a large-format book.

Line that sticks with me: None really, but I did chuckle a bunch.

Why I chose it: I thoroughly enjoyed his book “What If”  – it was one of my top books last year. So it seemed natural to pick up his next one.

Review: This is a mostly great book that takes on a some of the things that many of us probably have questions about in the physical realm. Like, do you know all the parts of your dish washer and how they work? Okay, what about a submarine? Or a nuclear power plant?

Mr. Munroe takes on these – and 40 other machines and bits of our natural world. He provides detailed schematics and describes what each bit does, using plain language. In fact, I believe he tried to use only 1,000 different words to describe really complicated processes.

And this where the book loses one star from me. I appreciate what he is going for, but especially for machines and components of the natural world that I have some knowledge of (like, for example, cells), I found it more confusing that he never used the correct terms. Like the International Space Station becomes the Shared Space House. Of a nuclear power plant becomes the Heavy Metal Power Building. I found that to be confusing and not helpful in me taking what I learn here and being able to recall it when I heard these things discussed using the proper terms.

My favorite bit was the break-down of the U.S. Constitution; I think it’s possibly the best section-by-section synopsis of that document I’ve ever read. Seriously, I think civics teachers should hand this out before they talk about that time in U.S. history.

If you are going to read this, I strongly recommend you get the hardcover version. These drawings should be seen at full size, and there’s a pull-out poster of a skyscraper in the back!

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