Home > Books, Old Reviews > How To Invent Everything by Ryan North

How To Invent Everything by Ryan North

Ryan North is as funny and he is smart, and he is very funny. Known for things such as Dinosaur Comics, Squirrel Girl and To Be or Not to Be, a book which turned the events of Macbeth into an adventure game. North’s signature style is funny yet informative, and with his latest How To Invent Everything, he completely outdoes all his previous work.

The premise of How To Invent Everything is that it’s a copy of survival guide for a stranded time travel. Allegedly discovered by North in the fossil record, it tells the reader that there is no way to repair a time machine. Instead, it advises the reader to rebuild civilisation from scratch, this time without making as many mistakes.

The first chapter is a description of both history and Earth’s place in the cosmos, cunningly disguised as a ‘how to work out where the time machine as dumped you’. Next we are onto the very basics; the fundamental technologies for civilisation turn out not to be fidget spinners and yodelling, but spoken and written language, scientific method, numbers that work and having some spare food. We then get into farming, mining, animal husbandry and so. All the good stuff.

Though disguised as a technical manual, this is anything but. It’s a fun history and explanation of humanity’s scientific achievements so far, with an added ‘how to’ on top. One of the recurring themes is exactly how long it took humans to come up with simple ideas such as wheelbarrows or keeping infants warm. They are fascinating (and carefully researched) facts here, all relating to human nature and their relationship with technology.

The conversational tone is charming, as well as the occasional gag about time-travel. (The fictional author in the book is angry at his boss at the time travel agency, for example.) It’s filled with lovely touches, such as all the historic quotes being from you, because you’ve gone back in time and nabbed those quotes. (They are also properly attributed, as is everything else)

Clever and well observed, it’s filled with everything you need to reboot civilisation. It includes substantial notes in the appendices and a general guide to useful animals and plants. This book is an almost essential primer on the story so far when it comes to science. We even go as far as basic computing, whilst also covering music, art and medicine. How To Invent Everything follows the Reithian principles of information, education, and entertainment, though it has the latter in spades.

I’ll be installing my copy in my personal time machine, of course. And getting copies for all my adventurous friends.

Categories: Books, Old Reviews
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