Randall Munroe
John Murray
2019 | 320pp |£16.99
ISBN 9781473680326

Buy this book from Amazon.co.uk

How to – absurd scientific advice for common real-world problems – book cover

How to is the latest book from Randall Munroe, creator of the xkcd webcomics. Munroe’s previous books, What if? and Thing Explainer, were works of pure brilliance and How to is just as good.

‘This is a book of bad ideas,’ Munroe describes it himself in the introduction. Each chapter tackles a conundrum such as How to mail a package from space or How to win an election, splitting each into smaller chunks to which he finds increasingly ludicrous solutions.

How to play football and How to charge your phone sound like they could actually be relevant to a regular Jennifer like me. Don’t be fooled. You’re unlikely to gain any practical advice from this book. What you will gain is a collection of crazy ideas to entertain your family and friends with. Have you ever considered the practicalities of building a swimming pool out of cheese? Or the precise place to position your camera to take a selfie with a giant moon in the background? Pointless, yes. But not impossible to figure out. Thankfully, Munroe has done all the thinking and research – all you have to do is appreciate the journey.

It’s hard to pick a favourite chapter but I especially enjoyed How to build a lava moat. First Munroe considers how to make lava, because obviously it has to be home made. Then how to keep your moat warm to prevent the lava from solidifying – his solution isn’t simple and it certainly isn’t cheap. And once you’ve built your lava moat, it turns out that your house will melt if you don’t keep it cool – one option is a water-cooling system … but not if your water supply is an ocean full of jellyfish.

Naturally, the book is illustrated with Munroe’s characteristic cartoons. It also comes with a heavy dose of satire and plenty of science – particularly physics.

If you have a problem to solve, this book might inspire you to think about it in a new way. And even if you don’t, this book is worth buying to dip in and out of for some whimsical relief from life’s mundane realities.

This book features in our book club podcast, which you can listen to here.