Sneak Peek: The Time Travel Guide Randall Munroe Calls “Essential Reading”


Cover detail, How To Invent Everything © Penguin Random House

Say you built a time machine. Say you used that time machine. And then say that time machine, uh, broke (listen, these things happen, next time you’ll know not to leave the parking brake on), leaving you stranded thousands of years before things like air conditioning and Wikipedia and Beyoncé and the internal combustion engine. You’d be screwed, right?

Not if you had Ryan North’s new book in the glove compartment.

How To Invent Everything, on shelves both physical and digital this September, is a practical, researched guide to building modern human civilization from (quite literally) the ground up. Starting with the basics (spoken and written language, numerical systems, and, you know, food) and covering topics including chemistry, biology, philosophy, mechanics, medicine, sex, literature, art, and music, this book will allow the unfortunate time traveler not only to survive, but to thrive. (And don’t miss North’s Kickstarter post for even more goodies!)

And you don’t just have to take my word for it. Randall Munroe, creator of the beloved long-running webcomic xkcd and New York Times-bestselling author of What If?, in his first-ever book blurb, says:

How to Invent Everything is such a cool book. It’s essential reading for anyone who needs to duplicate an industrial civilization quickly.”

So there.

Okay, so what if you’re putting the finishing touches on your time machine right now and can’t wait until September to grab a copy of the book? Well, you do have a time machine. You could just… travel forward to September and buy one. I know you want your first trip to be to 1889 so you can kill baby Hitler, but you’ve got to be prepared. It’s called delayed gratification, Kevin. Don’t make me do all the intellectual heavy lifting for you.

Fine, listen, at least take the table of contents and a helpful diagram with you, okay? I know you didn’t take the time to put together an owner’s manual yourself, so you should at least have some idea whether you need to tweak the n-dimension thrust assembly or rebuild the causality compensation matrix.

Figure 1: The FC3000™. A state-of-the-art personal time machine, which may not be… entirely reliable.

And if you’re really dead set on jumping straight to 1889, take the table of contents, too. You won’t be able to identify poisonous plants on sight (because someone just couldn’t wait), but at least you’ll be reminded of what you need to figure out:

You’re really gonna do this, huh? Okay. You’re killin’ me, but it’s your time machine. Safe travels, friend.