Nonfiction, Psychology, STEM

How To by Randall Munroe

Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems

As I loved Randall’s first book, What If?, when an advance copy of the follow up How To became available, I jumped at the chance to read it.


From the Inside Flap:
For any task might want to do, there’s a right way, a wrong way, and a way so monumentally complex, excessive, and inadvisable that no one would ever try it. How to is a guide to the third kind of approach. It’s full of highly impractical advice for everything from landing a plane to digging a hole.

Bestselling author and cartoonist Randall Munroe explains how to predict the weather by analyzing the pixels of your Facebook photos. He teaches you how to tell if you’re a baby boomer or a nineties kid by measuring the radioactivity of your teeth. He offers tips for taking a selfie with a telescope, crossing a river by boiling it, and powering your house by destroying the fabric of space-time. And if you want to get rid of the book once you’re done with it, he walks you through your options of proper disposal, including dissolving it in the ocean, converting it to vapor, using tectonic plates to subduct it into the Earth’s mantle, or launching it into the sun.

By exploring the most complicated ways to do simple tasks, Munroe doesn’t just make things difficult for himself and his readers. As he did so brilliantly in What If?, Munroe invites us to explore the most absurd reaches of the possible. Full of clever infographics and amusing illustrations, How To is a delightfully mind-bending way to better understand the science and technology underlying the things we do every day.

Click on this graphic to explore the book page on LibraryThing!


Phew, what a lengthy, and incredibly accurate and detailed synopsis the publisher has provided. Basically, this book is my new favorite recommendation for curious middle schoolers. And myself. My husband says I always take the needlessly complicated approach to simple tasks and now I intend to embrace that, just to show that I could be so much more absurd!

Randall Munroe reminds me of the wonderful hours spent as a child watching Bill Nye and other kids science shows and as a high schooler and college student watching Mythbusters (a review of Adam Savage’s memoir, Every Tool’s a Hammer to come in few weeks!). And while I never was a big science person myself in those formative years, I found myself loving chemistry in high school and eventually found myself on a path to be a biomedical engineer in college (though I eventually changed my mind – I work in a bookstore, pretty big change).

But along the way, I got a teaching degree for middle school science, among other subjects. And while I detested the types of questions and tasks put forth to me by my middle school science teachers (such as, how do you hold up a brick for 30 seconds using only a sheet of copier paper) I realized that they only did so to make me think about things differently, to use my vast knowledge set to solve problems, and to be a creative thinker. And I get the idea that creative thinking is pretty much Randall Munroe’s jam.

After memoirs and biographies of war correspondents, science-minded, knowledge compendium type books are probably my favorite – I love when one book teaches you twenty new things about a variety of different topics (also one of the reasons I loved Range so much) and How To definitely fits that bill. As the first big week of new releases this fall, I’m going to try to include a quick gift buying guide at the bottom of each of my fall reviews.

Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

Click this image to visit the book page on my Bookshop page!

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