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How To

Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems
Narrated by: Wil Wheaton
Length: 6 hrs and 15 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (149 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

The world's most entertaining and useless self-help guide, from the brilliant mind behind the wildly popular webcomic xkcd and the number one New York Times best sellers What If? and Thing Explainer

For any task you might want to do, there's a right way, a wrong way, and a way so monumentally complex, excessive, and inadvisable that no one would ever try it. How To is a guide to the third kind of approach. It's full of highly impractical advice for everything from landing a plane to digging a hole. 

Best-selling author and cartoonist Randall Munroe explains how to predict the weather by analyzing the pixels of your Facebook photos. He teaches you how to tell if you're a baby boomer or a '90s kid by measuring the radioactivity of your teeth. He offers tips for taking a selfie with a telescope, crossing a river by boiling it, and powering your house by destroying the fabric of space-time. And if you want to get rid of a book once you're done with it, he walks you through your options for proper disposal, including dissolving it in the ocean, converting it to a vapor, using tectonic plates to subduct it into the earth's mantle, or launching it into the Sun.

By exploring the most complicated ways to do simple tasks, Munroe doesn't just make things difficult for himself and his listeners. As he did so brilliantly in What If?, Munroe invites us to explore the most absurd reaches of the possible. How To is a delightfully mind-bending way to better understand the science and technology underlying the things we do every day.

©2019 Randall Munroe (P)2019 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

“A witty, educational examination of ‘unusual approaches to common tasks’...generously laced with dry humor...Munroe’s comic stick-figure art is an added bonus....  Apart from generating laughter, the book also manages to achieve his serious objective: to get his audience thinking.” (Publishers Weekly, starred review)

“Munroe (creator of the webcomic xkcd; What If?; Thing Explainer) creates another fun series of questions and answers that explore forces, properties, and natural phenomena through pop-culture scenarios . . . With illustrated formulas that humorously explain the science behind Munroe’s conjectures, this book is sure to entertain and educate thinkers from high school on up.” (Library Journal)

“An enjoyable treat for fans of logic puzzles, brain hacking, kaizen, mad science, and other forms of mental stimulation.” (Kirkus Reviews)

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Bad Ideas So BAD They Are NEARLY Irresistable! 🤓

I avoid math like the plague. I fully believe it is a cruel curse perpetrated upon human kind by a vengeful and sadistic universe... But even with that said... I LOVED this book! I'm convinced that Randall Munroe is probably the only person in the world who could take such a sadistic science and make it totally fun and accessible. Munroe walks the listener through everyday common ideas and then follows those ideas with a whole lotta bat-poop crazy ideas. For the reasonable ideas, he mathematically explains why they are in reality mathematically complex (and a whole lot of physics too)... and then he process to propose a lot more even absurdly outrageous ideas and why they might be a "bit" more mathematically reasonable (assuming you consider a bit of chaos reasonableness). Combine Munroe's witty and humorous writing with Wil Wheaton's pitch perfect tounge-in-cheek narration (which practically winks at the listener with every sentence), this is a highly enjoyable, funny, and enlightening book. Given that the ideas come petty fast and furious (and the math can be pretty overwhelming), the book can be a bit tedious at times.... But I think it's Munroe's way of assuring repeat listening. I did enjoy Munroe's pervious effort (What If) slightly more, but as with Munroe's previous outing, this book starts off with one of the most practical disclaimers ever written. A disclaimer the prudent listener will take to heart (and snicker to themselves about the poor sods who don't) 😂

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Matthew
  • Kansas City, MO, United States
  • 09-12-19

Decent start, lazy rest.

I would only recommend this book if you can get it for $1.99 or less because while it has some interesting and entertaining bits, it mostly felt phoned-in.

That’s all you really need to know about this book. The chapters are all on some very basic concept like “How to throw a pool party” or “How to arrive on time,” where Munroe overanalyzes it and gets into progressively more outlandish ways to reach the intended result. Here’s the rub: with the former example, Munroe gives physics reasons, calculations, and random tidbits on how to make a pool in crazy and unrealistic ways. With the latter example, he kind of just gives the results of quick Google search.

The first 10 chapters make up about half of the book because they are well thought out and interesting, whereas the remaining 18 chapters take up the rest since, as I keep mentioning, they were lazily done -- like he rushed to get them all written. I kept expecting it to get better again, but it never really did and got progressively more insulting to my expectations and time. The chapters didn’t even attempt to be funny at this point.

So if you do get this book (hopefully on sale), you might consider quitting after chapter 10 since that’s when it takes a J – curve downward.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Great coffie table audiobook

I know I leave a lot of positive reviews but that's because I only choose to finish books I enjoy. Audible allows you to easily get your credit back if the book isn't to your liking and with that being said this book was very to my liking.

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Good book made great by the reading

When I imagine this having been put on the page, I'm sure it was enjoyable, but I'm not sure I would have had the stamina to keep going through it. But Wil Wheaton is the absolutely perfect fit for this material. His delivery is clearly a great deal of fun for him, and that enthusiasm and pleasure is contagious. If you like XKCD, this is similar material and the same delightful wit. But the longer form lets the material to be assembled into coherent chapters of magnificence. But truly, Wheaton pushes this magnificence over the top. Wil is just enough of a geek (I say that in the most positive sense) to get the material, so he not only passes along the narrative, he delights in it. The result is a joy to listen to. This is the first audiobook in a long time I find to be "un-put-downable."

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Don't try any of this at home.

This book is strange, very strange... and even somewhat insane at times, which makes it a lot of fun.

The premise is simple; find the most absolutely insane, but scientifically possible solutions to "real world problems". With that in mind, I expected a bunch of cool tips that somebody would actually try in the real world to save time, money, or impress their less scientific friends and family.

Instead, what Munroe gives us are nothing short of what a mad scientist planning to blow up the universe would dream up in his spare time.

For example, in his tip for "How to build a pool", he explores the fastest ways to fill it with water, including buying thousands of bottles of water, then figuring out the fastest ways to open all the bottles at once... such as shooting them with shotguns.... or using a nuclear weapon.

Obviously, he's not suggesting people do 99.9999% of the things in the book, but with each premise, he finds a fun way to explore physics.

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A wonderful book full of stupid ideas

I love this approach. I want to try all of these insane ideas. Landing a passenger plane on a hostile aircraft carrier. Building an above ground swimming pool with cheese. Crashing Phobos into Mars to generate power. Perfectly obvious solution, obviously.