Randall Munroe
John Murray
2015 | 65pp (plus pullouts) | £5.99
ISBN 9781473620919

My initial reaction to this volume was to rhapsodise about its aesthetic appeal; gaze in admiration at the intricate illustrations, delivered in classic xkcd.com style; and marvel at Randall Munroe’s ingenuity in describing the complex functions and construction of generally recognisable everyday objects. Nevertheless, I rapidly realised that to construct my review employing such intricate verbiage would be inappropriate.

So here goes. There are lots of words I would like to use to talk about this book. But I can’t. The rest of this story will use only the ten hundred most often used words, as found in Thing explainer.

This book is very, very pretty. It must have taken a very long time to get all the pictures right. But the pictures are just the beginning. The words are where the special stuff happens. Using only ten hundred simple words, we are led through the insides of all sorts of stuff. From things whose names are simple – like trees and stars – to things that need funny groups of words to name them – like the food-heating radio box, or the sky boat with turning wings.

And it’s not just about things you can touch. The book explains the US’s laws of the land (I think the US should use that story – it is much clearer), the colours of light, and what makes the noises in your house walls when you turn the water-bringer off.

But even though the book uses simple words, it is not always very clear what it is talking about. You need to already know some information about the stuff to work out what it means. This is fun for the kind of people who like to think a lot, or fix problems. The book is not really for teaching and learning – it is about having a lot of fun with (not many) words.

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