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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Review: Thing Explainer

After What if?, I had high hopes for Thing Explainer. This is a large format book, best read on paper: do not buy the Kindle edition, as it requires a really huge piece of paper to fit in most of the illustrations, and I can only imagine that reading it on a tablet or e-ink Kindle device would be an exercise in frustration.

The book's conceit is that Munroe would only use the 10,000 most commonly used English words to label the diagrams, which range from an examination of the Earth's Crust to a tear down of a smart phone to a Nuclear power plant. I call it a conceit because in many cases, using the proper nouns would have helped the clarity of the book, and using the simple words simply made the book more obscure. For instance, calling an engine a "fire box" is more confusing than using the word, "engine." The most ludicrous example of this came when he presents the periodic table of elements. In essence, having a label such as "Metal that Tells Us About the Early Earth" rather than Niobium doesn't help whatsoever.

As a result, the title of the book is a lie. The book can only explain the objects it claims to explain only because you, the reader, already know what it's explaining. If you tried to show this to a child, the poor kid would probably get more confused as a result of the "explanation" than if you actually used big words and answered questions patiently.

All in all, I'm glad I checked this book out of the library. There's amusement in puzzling out what each long chain of sentences in the book is talking about, and the diagrams are great, but there's no way you'd walk away from the book more enlightened than when you first picked it up.

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