How To Invent Everything
Product DescriptionAn NPR Best Book of 2018
"How to Invent Everything is such a cool book. It's essential reading for anyone who needs to duplicate an industrial civilization quickly." --Randall Munroe, xkcd creator and New York Times-bestselling author of What If?
The only book you need if you're going back in time
What would you do if a time machine hurled you thousands of years into the past. . . and then broke? How would you survive? Could you improve on humanity's original timeline? And how hard would it be to domesticate a giant wombat?
With this book as your guide, you'll survive--and thrive--in any period in Earth's history. Bestselling author and time-travel enthusiast Ryan North shows you how to invent all the modern conveniences we take for granted--from first principles. This illustrated manual contains all the science, engineering, art, philosophy, facts, and figures required for even the most clueless time traveler to build a civilization from the ground up. Deeply researched, irreverent, and significantly more fun than being eaten by a saber-toothed tiger, How to Invent Everything will make you smarter, more competent, and completely prepared to become the most important and influential person ever. You're about to make history. . . better.
Top ReviewsHit and miss, not especially practical
by Saintly (4 out of 5 stars)
January 13, 2019
This is a great history book, but as a time traveler who was stranded for 35 years in an alternate ancient-egypt timeline before my friends rescued me, there were a lot of gaps in this book. I traveled back to before the apocalpyse (good luck y'all!) to leave this review.
Useful plants were mentioned and discussed without a description of what they look like. Combat in ancient egypt was basically stabbing people with pointy bits of metal. I was eventually able to teach them how to make crossbows and siege weaponry, but that was from memory, not this book. The book helped identify penicillin mold, but not how to grow large quantities of it. We had to do lots of trials with different setups to get a good production system going.
It's nice to know coffee and corn are available for cultivation if I can bring them back from the new world, but I wasn't able to take advantage of that in my timeline. A lot of concepts are mentioned, but without the diagrams or step-by-step guides on how to build that tech, you're stuck doing lots of experimentation. I feel like a section on medicinal plants & microbiology might have been helpful. We were close to developing a working microscope before I was rescued.
I was hoping for something a bit more practical, like the 'back to basics handbook', but this book does give you a broad overview of major concepts up to the invention of electricity & radio. My advice to you if you're stuck in the past is: quickly establish yourself as a wizard, using whatever tech you brought with you. Heck, the ancient egyptians were impressed with my sunglasses alone. Demand the brightest teens be sent to you, and then delegate, delegate, delegate. Set some to work on developing 4-field crop rotation (an easy one), and then work up the tech tree as rapidly as you can.
I'm recommending this to everyone! (Not on Kindle though)
by Reedster (4 out of 5 stars)
October 7, 2018
The book itself was pretty awesome! I loved all of the information and have been telling everyone all about what I've been learning from this book. This book gave me a much greater appreciation for everything I take for granted on a day-to-day basis. The delivery of the information being mixed with a "If you get stuck in the past, here's some tips" format definitely helped put everything in a better perspective of application. The only problem I found was on the Kindle, most of the charts and graphs are not scaled to fit on the screen. I'd recommend this book to everyone whether you've got the mind of an engineer or just love learning about advancements in civilization. But perhaps grab a physical copy of the book instead of on Kindle!
Do NOT buy the e-book
by SDM (1 out of 5 stars)
September 29, 2018
The author has written a charming, witty text which I think many people would enjoy. Unfortunately he uses many tables and charts that are both longer, wider and use small text in a manner that makes it excruciating to read on the kindle. So you can order the kindle version and reward Amazon's indifference to the formatting needed to read and use the book or you can buy the printed version, ideally from some vendor other than Amazon. Then you can enjoy the entire thing while not letting Amazon benefit from it's slapdash product offerings.
Very limited scope, semi-disorganized
by J F (3 out of 5 stars)
December 11, 2018
For a book about how to invent "everything," this book is very limited in scope. It doesn't have anything which even potentially related to combat (not even how to make a spear or bow and arrow, let alone gunpowder and explosives), or anything related to society (no discussion about legal codes, police forces, or religions).
The parts it does have are somewhat disorganized and don't always do what they purport to do. As an example, in the section about how to get good drinkable water, he discusses how to create charcoal (?) but doesn't describe how to use it to improve water (??).
As a minor note, the narrative frame of being a time traveler does hold the book together, but there is a lot of annoying cruft which gets in the way as a result, such as the advertisement sales pitch for a imaginary time machine.
Overall the book is interesting and collects information you could find online in an easy to read and digestible format. That being said, there are numerous major flaws which make this book merely "ehh, it's pretty good I guess" rather than being a stellar specimen.
It's good, but I was expecting more
by J (3 out of 5 stars)
January 3, 2019
I realize that this is entertainment, and that there's no requirement for the book to be useful. But I was disappointed at how so much of the technology described was either hand-waved or incomplete. The book could afford to have had more content about electric technology, and the section about computing was pretty subpar. I mean, yeah it's nice that it describes how a full adder works, but you can't expect someone to make a useful computer with that information alone. It's like giving someone milk, sugar, yeast, flour, butter and saying that they have everything they need to bake a croissant. This book definitely takes a wide but shallow approach to its theme.
But what was missing the most from the book was how to deal with intermediate steps. E.g. maybe a calculator made out of a bunch of enormous and awkward water-based logic gates isn't the most practical way to calculate, v.s. something like an abacus which you could make almost right away. Or practical advice on how to prevent a political rival from destroying the book, and how to survive old cultures as a stranger and not just get killed. Or how to quickly build a life for yourself stable enough for you to start advancing the tech tree, and how to survive in the wild until then.
won't do any good to buy this in digital
by Dalton (5 out of 5 stars)
December 3, 2018
It won't do any good to buy this in digital. if you need it, it will be years before you have power again.
Just kidding . a wealth on how things are/were made, and how to do it again. and funny. BUT. i keep my hardcover in my backpack at all times.....just in case.
Not for Kindle!
by Amazon Customer (1 out of 5 stars)
November 10, 2018
I bought this on Kindle - it was horrible and seemed buggy - skipping to the end regularly. Get the paperback version.
Fun and Informative
by casualtechy (5 out of 5 stars)
March 2, 2019
This is a fun read if you like do-it-yourself projects. The premise is great - you've been transported back in time, and you want to recreate the things you live with today. Some of the methods are more complex that you would want to handle today, but assuming you were stuck back in time they may not seem that bad. The author has a great sense of humor, and the descriptions are easy to understand. It's really amazing how many of the complicated things we take for granted today can be made by an average person. It's also a great lesson in understanding how the things around you actually work.
Interesting history book
by M. Deibler (4 out of 5 stars)
January 2, 2019
I got pulled into buying this book via an on-line discussion forum where people were talking about this. A bunch of people talking about time travel and how to survive and prosper in the past. As unrealistic as it was, it was an interesting discussion. And I fell for it!
In the end, this is really an interesting way to describe the history of what humans have invented over time. Looking at this book from that point of view makes it valuable. All of the commentary around various inventions are the really interesting parts. Why it took so long for us to invent various things and the wrong steps we made for 1000's of years, for instance. Those parts are very humorous (or depressing depending on how you look at it and the technology involved).
As a DIY history book, this is light. It gives the basic idea, but not really a recipe for many things. The number of diagrams of things is actually very small - a picture of how something works is very valuable in many cases and there aren't many pictures. If your goal is to read this and then be able to go out and build some of the technologies described, you will be disappointed. If you want an overview/summary of the major inventions of history, with a humorous commentary alongside, you will be happy with this book.
A word of caution. This book gives you enough information to be dangerous in many cases, and not an expert.
After the end of the world as we know it you'll be glad you had bought this book....
by Lau (5 out of 5 stars)
November 10, 2018
Great read, perfect gift for so many folks. It is exactly what the title says- my 16 yo nephew appreciated it and proceeded to power read through the whole book, and then was super excited to explain all the cool things he learned. Was worth it for that at twice the price!
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