“Thing Explainer” by Randall Munroe of xkcd: Nonfiction Book Review

Quick!  Have you ever needed to explain the parts of a cell in aggressively simple language for someone who outright refuses to learn a biology term?  Or have you had a hankering to investigate the ins and outs of whether or not a T-Rex belongs in an office building?  No?  …Just me?

Well, have you ever wondered what would happen if someone went seriously NEXT LEVEL with Dr. Seuss’s 50 word challenge for “Green Eggs and Ham?”  Look no further, Randall Munroe of xkcd has you covered!

Written on the basis of using the top 1000 most commonly used words, “Thing Explainer” is a wonderfully infuriating book if you pick it up without actually comprehending what the premise means.  And, again, if you like me read all the way to the end of the book, see the “ten hundred” word list and count the words before it clicks that “thousand” didn’t make the cut on the list, congrats!  You’re probably more a trees than a forest person.

While I was reading “Think Explainer,” I was honestly at a bit of a loss for the audience of the book.  I would lean away from putting it in front of little kids as an “intro to science-y type stuff” book, due to the extent of the simplification that had to be done to fit within the confines of Munroe’s premise.  For adults, let alone those with a background in science, the text alternatingly feels amusing, overly-simplified, or a bit “oh, I hadn’t though of it that way.”  After a bit of thinking, it feels to me like something which is either a novelty for those who already understand what Munroe has broken down into neat “blueprints,” or perhaps a teaching tool.

For me, “Think Explainer” is a bit of a PSA for expanding the vocabulary that we use in everyday life.  The feeling of being constrained by the overly simplified language that I felt while reading the book was more than I would have anticipated, even considering the obvious comedy bent.  That being said, the book is unto itself an accomplishment to me, given how skillfully Munroe finds workarounds for even the simplest missing words, like the aforementioned “ten hundred.”

Check out “Thing Explainer” for either an amusing or mildly infuriating (in a good way) read.

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