“We’re scientists,  we’re here to help.”

Author:  Randall Munroe

how to book coverCreativity and imagination.  They aren’t the first traits you think of when you conjure up a typical white-coated laboratory scientist.  But then Randall Munroe isn’t your typical scientist.   The former NASA roboticist has accumulated an enthusiastic following ever since he started writing a webcomic in 2005.  Known by the four letter – and unpronounceable – nonsense word xkcd, it’s famous for its deft use of stick figure humans and a consistently humorous approach to solving myriad scientific puzzles.  This seemingly simplistic, but thoroughly entertaining approach has proven imminently successfully and Munroe has recently released his fourth book.  In How to he provides comprehensive advice for a wide ranging assortment of everyday problems.  In Munroe’s bizarro world, there’s no obstacle that can’t be overcome given enough drones, jet fuel and scientific creativity.

Randall Munroe photo

The author with rubber ducks.

Wisely counseled by his crack legal team, the author starts the book by clearly warning readers to “not try any of this at home.”  He then goes on to address more than two dozen of life’s most pressing problems.  From “How to Throw Things” to “How to Get Somewhere Fast”, he explores numerous theoretically possible, but entirely absurd approaches to everyday activities.

Maybe you need to know “How to Mail a Package” or “How to Charge Your Phone”.  If so, the author and his team of undaunted stick figure assistants are here help.  While these life skills are certainly important, my personal favorites are a bit bolder, including “How to Cross a River”, “How to Play the Piano” and the imminently useful “How to Power Your House (on Mars)”.   No matter where you live or how you spend your day, you’re likely to find at least a few practical tips for the challenges that get in your way.

It’s hard to say what it is about Munroe’s approach that is so consistently effective and enjoyable.   Maybe it’s his unique drawing style which somehow manages to give ordinary stick figures personality and emotion.  Maybe it’s the way he uses physics to convince the reader that almost anything is possible, as long as you’re willing to take risks and double check your math.  But for me, it’s his enthusiasm for the beauty of physics combined with his unabashedly whimsical – almost Pythonesque – approach to any topic.

Making the simple ridiculously complicated – and equally dangerous – How To is sure to entertain even the most somber science nerd.  A special cameo by tennis star and GOAT Serena Williams may even attract the sporting crowd.  But even if science and math aren’t really your things, you might want to give Munroe’s work a try.  If anyone can reveal what’s inherently interesting and captivating about science, he can.

— D. Driftless

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