Randall Munroe  new book

With my son growing up so is his WHYs. This keeps me in constant quest for answers of his WHYs. When I read the recommendation of Bill Gates about this book¬† Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words by the celebrated author of books like What If and XKCD, Randall Munroe I didn’t wastes any time to grab the book as soon as it got released in India.

The book doesn’t answers WHYs but it definitely explain HOWs. By this I mean how these big heavy electronic devices, with which we are surrounded making our lives easy, actually works. Randall has explained about many things both mechanical and non mechanical how they work. Machines which are present in our homes like washing machine, microwave, elevator, dishwasher,laptops we know how to use them. But if someone ask us how these machines exactly works and perform the task we are dumbstruck. We never look into the technical part of machines and similar things. It is what this book is all about.

Since the technical aspect goes over our head we tend to avoid it. Randall has tried to explain the technical aspects of many things which include our body, washing machine, bonnet of a car, helicopter, microwave, elevator, submarines, dishwasher, tree, drainage system, cockpit, bridges, datacentre, the solar system, tectonic plates, cells, serum, in-vitro, smartphones, US Constitution, nuclear reactor, dishwasher, the periodic table, Saturn V rocket.These are the one which I manage to decipher. There are few more The author has used diagrams and most simple and common English words for explanation which makes things very easy to understand. He has coined names and terms while explaining which I must agree are elucidating. For example

But there is a flaw in the book which does not serves its purpose to the fullest. Randall has written the book in form of riddle. Well this is what I felt while reading. He coined a name for a thing and wrote a brief introduction about it without mentioning its original name. This is followed by a diagram describing and demonstrating the various parts and its function and how it works. If he has taken so much pain in explaining functioning of various things around us he could also have given the original names of the things in bracket for better understanding.

Randall is explaining about bonnet of a car, cockpit of a aeroplane, helicopter etc which I have never seen how on earth I’ll understand the intricate details without knowing their original names. The best way I find to unriddle this book is to sit with the original diagram of the thing and then compare both to understand.¬†

Familiarity is very essential for understanding this book. If the reader is not aware about the thing Randall is talking about then he or she can scratch their head to understand or decode it. It would be one big puzzle. Knowing about the thing is important. Once that is done then one can enjoy reading about that particular thing and can’t stop admiring Randall’s creativity in naming them.


With human knowledge advancing everyday new technology keep popping up which could be very difficult for common people to understand. Munroe has tried to explain in the most simple way the very difficult terminology like microwave, bridges, datacentre, the solar system, tectonic plates, cells, serum, in-vitro, smartphones, US Constitution, nuclear reactor, dishwasher, the periodic table, Saturn V rocket and many such words which we so easily use in our day to day life but when it comes to explaining someone especially little ones in our homes about it we are just short of right words to explain it.


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