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Monday, November 2, 2015

Science Nerd Randall Munroe of xkcd Explains Things As Simply as Possible

Posted By on Mon, Nov 2, 2015 at 10:30 AM

click to enlarge Excerpted from Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words © 2015 by Randall Munroe. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.
  • Excerpted from Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words © 2015 by Randall Munroe. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

Randall Munroe doesn’t think you’re stupid. Though you might get that impression when you open the cover of Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words. Larger than a laptop and loaded with pictures, arrows, and Munroe’s telltale stick figures, it may not strike you as a book for grown ups.

Munroe doesn’t really care. As the science blogger, xkcd webcomic creator, and former NASA roboticist states in his forward — i.e., "the page before the book starts — “I liked writing this book because it made me let go of my fear of sounding stupid. After all — when you’re saying things like ‘space boats’ and ‘water pushers’ everything sounds stupid.”

Thing Explainer cuts the complexity, using annotated blue prints and the one thousand (or rather the “ten hundred”) most common words in the English language to explain over 40 items of interest. Subjects range from pencils (writing sticks) to animal cells (tiny bags of water you’re made of), and nuclear reactors (heavy metal power building) to dishwashers (box that cleans food holders).
Excerpted from Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words © 2015 by Randall Munroe. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.
  • Excerpted from Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words © 2015 by Randall Munroe. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

You can grab a copy of Thing Explainer in stores and online starting Nov. 24, or listen to Munroe explain the book (and other things) himself during his nine-stop book tour (that is, if you're lucky enough to score tickets). Two of those stops will be in the Bay Area — one in San Francisco and another in Berkeley.

Melissa Mytinger, event coordinator for Berkeley Arts and Letters, anticipates a visual presentation along with Munroe’s remarks. “He’s very good at them,” said Mytinger, who arrange Munroe's last visit to Berkeley. “He’s a very adept nerdy presenter.”

One thing it won’t be is overly complicated. If the premise of Thing Explainer is to break down barriers, the purpose of Munroe’s speaking engagements (aside from selling lots of books) is to explain things in a way that is easy to understand. It may feel more kindergarten than grad school, but that’s precisely the point. You shouldn’t need a dictionary to explain a nuclear bomb (or a “machine for burning cities” as the case may be).

Randall Munroe, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 7 p.m. at The Booksmith at The Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell and Thursday, Dec. 3, 7 p.m., at First Congregational Church, 2345 Channing Way, Berkeley

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