How to Invent Everything: A Survival Guide for the Stranded Time Traveller

How to Invent Everything: A Survival Guide for the Stranded Time Traveller

"How to Invent Everything is such a cool book. It's essential reading for anyone who needs to duplicate an industrial civilization quickly." --Randall Munroe, xkcd creator and New York Times-bestselling author of What If? The only book you need if you're going back in timeWhat would you do if a time machine hurled you thousands of years into the past. . . and then broke? H...

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Title:How to Invent Everything: A Survival Guide for the Stranded Time Traveller
Author:Ryan North
Rating:

How to Invent Everything: A Survival Guide for the Stranded Time Traveller Reviews

  • Ryan North

    I wrote it! But I think it's the best thing I've ever written, so great work, past me.

    In all seriousness though, it was a lot of fun to research and write, and if reading it is anything close to as entertaining and educational as writing it was, I think you'll have a great time with it!

  • Diane Hernandez

    How to Invent Everything is “a complete cheat sheet to civilization”. You’re welcome.

    Beginning with hilarious FAQs about your new state-of-the-art FC3000 rental market time machine, the book then explains how to invent everything and restart civilization in case the machine breaks down in the past. It starts at a basic level of civilization, language, and continues all the way through making computers to do all the work. Along the way it touches on math, science, agriculture, zoology, nutrition,

    How to Invent Everything is “a complete cheat sheet to civilization”. You’re welcome.

    Beginning with hilarious FAQs about your new state-of-the-art FC3000 rental market time machine, the book then explains how to invent everything and restart civilization in case the machine breaks down in the past. It starts at a basic level of civilization, language, and continues all the way through making computers to do all the work. Along the way it touches on math, science, agriculture, zoology, nutrition, sexuality, philosophy, art, music and basic medicine.

    When I initially picked How to Invent Everything on Edelweiss+, I thought it was non-fiction. Imagine my surprise and delight when I quickly realized it was fictional in the vein of my favorite book, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Except it starts in the future and goes backwards to present day. Sorta. Alas, it is both fiction and non-fiction at the same time. Good luck, time travelers, sorting it out.

    This is a very interesting book. It includes actual recipes for creating items. However, there is also a disclaimer in the front stating no one is responsible if something happens to you while using the recipes so hmmm. I liked How to Invent Everything for its humor and some of the information is interesting to know. It may be useful in case of a zombie (or other type of) apocalypse. However, if you are a doom’s day prepper, buy this book in paper format since who knows how long those solar chargers in your bug-out kit will be able to charge your kindle. 4 stars!

    Thanks to Riverhead Books and Edelweiss+ for an advance copy.

  • Katie

    3.5 stars -- I docked points for the entire bread/beer section, which referred to yeast as animals (????) -- they are fungi! (This is not a one-off either; there is an entire joke about this??) Except for that one glaring error, I really enjoyed this book, its tone, and its humor. The premise was so clever that I knew I wanted to make acquiring this book a priority at SDCC, and I'm fortunate to have gotten a signed copy! The premise: you have a time machine, but it broke. Now you are stranded so

    3.5 stars -- I docked points for the entire bread/beer section, which referred to yeast as animals (????) -- they are fungi! (This is not a one-off either; there is an entire joke about this??) Except for that one glaring error, I really enjoyed this book, its tone, and its humor. The premise was so clever that I knew I wanted to make acquiring this book a priority at SDCC, and I'm fortunate to have gotten a signed copy! The premise: you have a time machine, but it broke. Now you are stranded sometime in the distant past (flowchart provided to help you/the stranded time traveller figure out when exactly you are). How are you to survive and thrive in comfort? Well, Ryan North (the one from the AU where time travel has been invented and you have been stranded, not the Ryan North who found the manual and published the book you have in front of real you) has an instruction manual on how to invent everything you need, from written and spoken language to medicine to electricity to radio to just about anything you could want.

    Some favorite moments:

    in an entry on horseshoes: before horseshoes were invented: "Humans hadn't helped any other animals wear shoes, which honestly seems like one of our most adorable achievements"

    in an entry in the chemistry section about chlorine gas: "at high temperatures, [chlorine gas] also reacts with iron to produce chlorine-iron fires, which are about as safe as they sound (they are extremely not safe)."

    in a section on human anatomy (hey, knowing about the body puts you ahead of 10,000s of years of human history, and can get your new civilization started out on the right... foot!): "Skeleton: there is a spooky wet skeleton hiding inside us all, a truly terrifying thought" -- agree, Ryan North, agree. Skeletons are almost as creepy as veins, which are also terrifying and inside you.

    In the agriculture section (specifically the potato subsection): "Boil them, mash them, stick them in a stew, even cook them in oil to make delicious fries and potato chips." -- I see what you did there -- someone's a LOTR fan (well, two people -- in this case, Ryan North and also me).

    Also, I heartily approve of the author's use of the term "horsies" to describe the grouping of horses and protohorses.

  • Brian Clegg

    Occasionally you read a book and think 'I wish I'd thought of that.' This was my immediate reaction to Ryan North's How to Invent Everything. The central conceit manages to be both funny and inspiring as a framework for writing an 'everything you ever wanted to know about everything (and particularly science)' book.

    What How to Invent Everything claims to be is a manual for users of a time machine (from some point in the future). Specifically it's a manual for dealing with the situation of the ti

    Occasionally you read a book and think 'I wish I'd thought of that.' This was my immediate reaction to Ryan North's How to Invent Everything. The central conceit manages to be both funny and inspiring as a framework for writing an 'everything you ever wanted to know about everything (and particularly science)' book.

    What How to Invent Everything claims to be is a manual for users of a time machine (from some point in the future). Specifically it's a manual for dealing with the situation of the time machine going wrong and stranding the user in the past. At first it appears that it's going to tell you how to fix the broken time machine - but then admits this is impossible. Since you're stuck in the past, you might as well make the best of your surroundings, so the aim of the rest of the book is to give you the knowledge you need to build your own civilisation from scratch.

    We start with a fun flow chart for working out just how far back in time you are stuck (and what you will be faced with as challenges). From then on, there's a mix of practical information and background of theory that might help you rebuild some kind of civilised world. So we get science, technology, the arts, medicine - inevitably cherry picking but sometimes in a surprising amount of detail when focussed on a small part of what's needed.

    In some ways, what we have here is a modern version of those popular books from a good few years ago that told you how to survive crocodile attacks and the like, but on steroids. Not only is this book far fatter (we're talking over 450 pages) it takes the premise of providing mostly accurate but practically useless how-to information to the wonderful extreme. Since the reader isn't actually stranded in the past, it's not going to be a truly practical guide, but it does put across a surprising amount of information in an approachable manner. It's like having the old Pear's Cylopedia crossed with a science fiction comedy.

    The were only two things that slightly reduced the enjoyment. I found North's style of humour too knowing - it just got wearing after a while, rather than continuing to be entertaining as someone like Douglas Adams would have managed. So, for example, page after page of this kind of thing can get a bit heavy: 'Cool hats are easy to imagine [without language], but the meaning of the sentence "Three weeks from tomorrow, have your oldest stepsister meet me on the southeast corner two block east from the first house we egged last Halloween" is extremely difficult to nail down without having concrete words for the concepts of time, place, numbers, relationships and spooky holidays.'

    My other slight moan is that the big sections on growing food and 'common human complaints that can be solved by technology' got a little samey and were distinctly over-long. Some aspects of establishing the needs of basic civilisation are... rather dull. But there was still much to delight in as the book skips its merry way from units of measurement to how to invent music (with a few classical pieces included to claim that you composed, because who's going to know you haven't).

    The reality, then, doesn't quite live up to the brilliance of the idea. I'm not sure anything could. But it still remains a great way to link together a portmanteau of any random bits of knowledge that North felt it would be enjoyable to impart. It would make a great gift book and will give a lot of pleasure. You may even learn something handy, should you ever be stuck in the remote past.

  • Margaret Sankey

    This is a fun book which tracks closely with how I used to teach World History--let's domesticate some animals! Here's what you can do once you've got printing as a reliable technology! North lays out the prerequisites for humanity's most useful leaps and explains how to achieve them under primitive circumstances (we all *know* about penicillin, but how may people can isolate and propagate it?). All of this is told in an accessible, smart ass tone, making it both appealing to casual readers and

    This is a fun book which tracks closely with how I used to teach World History--let's domesticate some animals! Here's what you can do once you've got printing as a reliable technology! North lays out the prerequisites for humanity's most useful leaps and explains how to achieve them under primitive circumstances (we all *know* about penicillin, but how may people can isolate and propagate it?). All of this is told in an accessible, smart ass tone, making it both appealing to casual readers and useful to anyone doing world building or underlining a Tech and Civ lesson. (Also, I never knew that pink grapefruit were a product of the Atoms for Peace program. Mutants.)

  • Ric

    When reading this, I couldn’t help but think of What If? by Randall Munroe, because it’s a similar kind of book except it’s written in a very different way and it’s way more practical. Instead of answering hypothetical questions, it was a guidebook for someone who wants to restart society when stuck in the past. It was full of quips and one-liners that made me laugh out loud. My favorite running gag was that any quote mentioned in the book was credited to “you” (originally ‘the name of the perso

    When reading this, I couldn’t help but think of What If? by Randall Munroe, because it’s a similar kind of book except it’s written in a very different way and it’s way more practical. Instead of answering hypothetical questions, it was a guidebook for someone who wants to restart society when stuck in the past. It was full of quips and one-liners that made me laugh out loud. My favorite running gag was that any quote mentioned in the book was credited to “you” (originally ‘the name of the person who actually said it’) because technically if you go back in time and say a quote that you heard but it hasn’t been said yet, you originally said it (it’s a paradox!). Admittedly, it was probably closer to 3.5 stars because I did enjoy it, but it could be really dry in parts. If there’s some apocalyptic event, I know one of the books I’ll be grabbing when I leave the house.

  • Clare Hutchinson

    This has a really fun premise - a guidebook on reinventing elements of modern civilization for a stranded time-traveller that does an entertaining job of explaining the basics of technology and historical progression. I learned a lot! I played along with a suspension of disbelief at first but then found I got easily annoyed at missing/skipping steps or instructions (how am I collecting all these gases? with beakers?), or thinking that such a thing wouldn't be possible without first inventing bas

    This has a really fun premise - a guidebook on reinventing elements of modern civilization for a stranded time-traveller that does an entertaining job of explaining the basics of technology and historical progression. I learned a lot! I played along with a suspension of disbelief at first but then found I got easily annoyed at missing/skipping steps or instructions (how am I collecting all these gases? with beakers?), or thinking that such a thing wouldn't be possible without first inventing basic things like knives, or that there were entire missing sections that would be helpful in this case (how to build a decent shelter). And I hoped for a bit more literary content - more thoughtful musing on the progression of knowledge, how secrecy and racism prevented cultures from learning from each other, how interpersonal difficulties and society might prevent the reader from achieving the aims of the book, any note on things the reader should try to avoid inventing, invention of societal structures, etc. There were little asides on these but with such an ambitious text I hoped for a bit more, even at the end. Tell me how to invent not getting burned at the stake for being an obvious witch making penicillin and airplanes in 300 AD, Ryan!!!

    However, I appreciated the wide scope of knowledge, I spent a LOT of time examining things and imagining how I might (or if I would be able to) invent them, and I think I could probably make a kiln.

  • Charles

    I enjoyed this book, a somewhat smug but informative trip through the technologies that create and enhance civilization. It even has a clever frame—what would you do if you were stuck in the past due to a time machine failure? (You must end up in a past where there were other humans but no civilization; a helpful flow chart makes clear that ending up in other time periods will not lead to a lengthy life for you.) Everything from food production to tanning to smelting to computers is covered, tho

    I enjoyed this book, a somewhat smug but informative trip through the technologies that create and enhance civilization. It even has a clever frame—what would you do if you were stuck in the past due to a time machine failure? (You must end up in a past where there were other humans but no civilization; a helpful flow chart makes clear that ending up in other time periods will not lead to a lengthy life for you.) Everything from food production to tanning to smelting to computers is covered, though each briefly; the writing is brisk and often funny (even if the same jokes are used too often and some sections are a bit padded out). And since I am a trivia master, and actually knew already at least 95% of the things covered in this book, I can attest that the accuracy level is very high.

    But the book jars the reader by the constant intrusion of social justice warrior cant. We are didactically instructed, despite that survival obviously requires a firm grasp of reality, that “Of course, not all women have vaginas, and not all people with vaginas are women.” The stupid abbreviations “CE” and “BCE” are substituted for AD and BC; given that every page has multiple dates, this leads to reader headache, having to focus to see which is which in a given case. No discussion at all is offered about weapons, even the most basic, although those are, short of hunting and gathering, the most critical elements to human survival in any pre-modern period, both for food acquisition and protection. We are constantly hectored that we must avoid creating global warming. The confusing plural “they” is always used as the generic pronoun. Lies are told to us that inventions like eyeglasses were made elsewhere than Europe. And so on, and on, and on.

    If the author, Ryan North, had simply avoided the cant, the book would have been far better than it is. As it stands, so much of the book is irritating to the reader it substantially lessens his enjoyment in reading. Too bad.

  • Peter Tillman

    This is an outline of the history of technology, presented as a manual for stranded time-travelers who had rented the FC-3000 time machine. It starts cute: “REPAIR GUIDE: There are no user-serviceable parts inside the FC-3000.” Oops.

    I think Arthur C. Clarke once remarked that the best evidence against the existence of time travel, was the remarkable absence of time travelers.

    Still, it’s a clever handle for the book, but kind of a one-trick pony that quick

    This is an outline of the history of technology, presented as a manual for stranded time-travelers who had rented the FC-3000 time machine. It starts cute: “REPAIR GUIDE: There are no user-serviceable parts inside the FC-3000.” Oops.

    I think Arthur C. Clarke once remarked that the best evidence against the existence of time travel, was the remarkable absence of time travelers.

    Still, it’s a clever handle for the book, but kind of a one-trick pony that quickly got old for me. The usual problem of writing humor. But who knows? You might like it. The author is a cartoonist:

    The history of technology part seems accurate, although the “future” periodic table in the appendix just irritated me, as a former chemist. About there, I started skimming. Most of the factual stuff was old-hat for me. I don’t think I’m really the intended audience, and my 2-star rating is definitely an outlier. Might be closer to 1.5 stars, really. Not a keeper!

    I won a copy of the book from the publisher through a Goodreads giveaway. Thanks!

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