Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “How to Invent Everything: A Survival Guide for the Stranded Time Traveller” as Want to Read:
How to Invent Everything: A Survival Guide for the Stranded Time Traveller
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

How to Invent Everything: A Survival Guide for the Stranded Time Traveller

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  2,520 ratings  ·  427 reviews
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 N
ebook, 464 pages
Published September 18th 2018 by Virgin Digital
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about How to Invent Everything, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Kali I would think this should be okay. The only possibly concerning parts (depending on how uptight you are about such things): it tells you how to make a…moreI would think this should be okay. The only possibly concerning parts (depending on how uptight you are about such things): it tells you how to make alcohol (though rather vaguely), it does have a bit about sex though it does not at all get graphic (its within the first aid/medical section). Also instructions (with ample warnings) about how to make dangerous/corrosive chemicals (less)
Nisclani I'm reading the dead tree version because it can't be properly rendered on an e-reader. Some graphics span two pages, and you want to flip back and fo…moreI'm reading the dead tree version because it can't be properly rendered on an e-reader. Some graphics span two pages, and you want to flip back and forth.(less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.14  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,520 ratings  ·  427 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of How to Invent Everything: A Survival Guide for the Stranded Time Traveller
Ryan North
Jul 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  (Review from the author)
I wrote it! But I think it's the best thing I've ever written, so great work, past me.

In all seriousness though, it was a lot of fun to research and write, and if reading it is anything close to as entertaining and educational as writing it was, I think you'll have a great time with it!
Jan 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fellow preppers, bring it in for a huddle. I’ve got a manual you’ll want stuff in your bunker. (That was bizarrely suggestive.) Have you ever, while deathly ill from eating too many magic markers, painted an impromptu canvas with the prism of your explosive vomit, and saw the Mandelbrot set starring back at you? Then, upon further examination of its infinite self similarities, experienced a great longing to recapitulate the important discoveries of mankind? First, get yourself to a goddamn hospi ...more
Sep 13, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars -- I docked points for the entire bread/beer section, which referred to yeast as animals (????) -- they are fungi! (This is not a one-off either; there is an entire joke about this??) Except for that one glaring error, I really enjoyed this book, its tone, and its humor. The premise was so clever that I knew I wanted to make acquiring this book a priority at SDCC, and I'm fortunate to have gotten a signed copy! The premise: you have a time machine, but it broke. Now you are stranded so ...more
Clare Hutchinson
Oct 21, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This has a really fun premise - a guidebook on reinventing elements of modern civilization for a stranded time-traveller that does an entertaining job of explaining the basics of technology and historical progression. I learned a lot! I played along with a suspension of disbelief at first but then found I got easily annoyed at missing/skipping steps or instructions (how am I collecting all these gases? with beakers?), or thinking that such a thing wouldn't be possible without first inventing bas ...more
Peter Tillman
This is an outline of the history of technology, presented as a manual for stranded time-travelers who had rented the FC-3000 time machine. It starts cute: “REPAIR GUIDE: There are no user-serviceable parts inside the FC-3000.” Oops.

I think Arthur C. Clarke once remarked that the best evidence against the existence of time travel, was the remarkable absence of time travelers.

Still, it’s a clever handle for the book, but kind of a one-trick pony that quick
Diane Hernandez
Sep 13, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: edelweiss
How to Invent Everything is “a complete cheat sheet to civilization”. You’re welcome.

Beginning with hilarious FAQs about your new state-of-the-art FC3000 rental market time machine, the book then explains how to invent everything and restart civilization in case the machine breaks down in the past. It starts at a basic level of civilization, language, and continues all the way through making computers to do all the work. Along the way it touches on math, science, agriculture, zoology, nutrition,
Charles J
Nov 22, 2018 rated it liked it
I enjoyed this book, a somewhat smug but informative trip through the technologies that create and enhance civilization. It even has a clever frame—what would you do if you were stuck in the past due to a time machine failure? (You must end up in a past where there were other humans but no civilization; a helpful flow chart makes clear that ending up in other time periods will not lead to a lengthy life for you.) Everything from food production to tanning to smelting to computers is covered, tho ...more
Leo Walsh
Jan 26, 2019 rated it liked it
I picked this book off of NPR's best books of 2018 list and because I like reading science. The book makes it clear that science and technology matter. We humans as a species have advanced leaps and bounds beyond our natural state. So much of what we take for granted -- from spinning thread and creating looms to weave our cloth, to the agriculture which produces the food we eat, to even writing, reading and paper -- is based on decades of human experience, trial and error.

Okay. Fair enough. I l
Brian Clegg
Sep 27, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Occasionally you read a book and think 'I wish I'd thought of that.' This was my immediate reaction to Ryan North's How to Invent Everything. The central conceit manages to be both funny and inspiring as a framework for writing an 'everything you ever wanted to know about everything (and particularly science)' book.

What How to Invent Everything claims to be is a manual for users of a time machine (from some point in the future). Specifically it's a manual for dealing with the situation of the ti
Aug 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, humor
It's what it says on the cover: a guide for reinventing civilization from pretty much nothing, from moving from hunter-gatherer to farming, language and medicine, to rudimentary medicine and technology. All from the point of view of a time traveler stranded in the past with a manual provided by the manufacturers of the time machine that stranded them there.

While some of the detail is mind-numbing (although leavened by humor throughout), the exercise overall makes you think about the many underly
Ok, I’m just going to come out and say this is the coolest book ever invented. Emphasis on the “invention” part because that’s what Ryan North’s “How to Invent Everything” is all about.
Ever wonder how to make your own chemicals? (hint:in most cases don’t).
Your own penicillin? (not sure of the legality of selling your homemade penicillin or the wisdom of using it after the consequences of a few nights on the town but hey…there it is.).
Are you in the market for a backyard smelter to produce y
Meg C
Oct 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Would you like to:
• Domesticate wolves in as little as 18 years?
• Play the Tetris theme on instruments you made yourself?
• Create a calorie surplus, therefore creating the opportunity of having a person or persons whose sole job is to put shoes on horses?

Well, have I got the book for you!

If I still haven't sold you, let me also mention:
• Upon its release, it was #1 on the non-fiction and science fiction bestseller lists.
• It has footnotes galore (and you know you love a good footnote).
• It has t
Margaret Sankey
Oct 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a fun book which tracks closely with how I used to teach World History--let's domesticate some animals! Here's what you can do once you've got printing as a reliable technology! North lays out the prerequisites for humanity's most useful leaps and explains how to achieve them under primitive circumstances (we all *know* about penicillin, but how may people can isolate and propagate it?). All of this is told in an accessible, smart ass tone, making it both appealing to casual readers and ...more
This is a humorous way to sneakily introduce someone to the basics of science, history, prehistory, ecology, farming, technology, etc., via the framing device of being a how-to explainer for time-lost travelers. It is vastly entertaining, and I think you should buy it for any smart kids you know. (I just sent a copy to my 13-year-old cousin. I know he’s going to eat it up.)

Here’s a sample:
“Science gives you an explanation, but you can never say with absolute certainty that it’s the correct one.
Jakub Slámka
Mar 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Had a lot of fun with this book. Sort of a “Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy” meets “Sapiens” :)
May 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
If, like I have, you've ever played the game called "what technologies could you recreate if you traveled back in time, and why would soap be at the top of the list, and what is soap, anyway?" you'll enjoy this book. The conceit is that you're reading an emergency civilization-building guide for stranded time travelers; the guide covers everything from farming to cooking, hygiene to medicine, math to physics, chemistry to applied engineering, as so forth. Surprisingly thorough and well-construct ...more
Kam Yung Soh
Mar 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
A fun book that uses the premise of a time traveller stranded in the past and having the make the best of things by starting off humanity on the path of civilisation. The means of doing this is by bypassing the trial and errors that humanity went through and going straight to the solutions needed to set up a working modern civilisation.

The book starts off with tips of the stranded time traveller to find out where and when he might be. Assuming the traveller is lucky and ends up in a certain time
Mar 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is a fun book about the science and technology that makes civilization possible, written as a manual for stranded time-travellers. It reminded me of The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World from Scratch in subject matter, but it was written in such an entertaining style that I enjoyed reading them both. Ryan North particularly enjoyed highlighting discoveries that were behind their time, where humans probably could have saved themselves a lot of hassle had someone thought to say, invent a be ...more
Pratik Batavia
Dec 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: bought
Premise of the book is simple. You, a time traveler, travels back in time but unfortunately your time machine breaks down in the journey. Now you don't know where you are and 'when' you are. Your last hope is this book which promises to empower you to not only survive but also thrive in this hopeless situation. Solution? Invent an entire civilization from ground up and all the technologies along with it.

As a Civilization and Age of empire fan, I was naturally enticed and intrigued by its premis
Nov 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
If you've ever played Civ and thought, gosh, it would really be quite interesting enough if it was just the technology tree, this is the book for you. Pretty funny too, if a little more repetitive than when North gets to play with characters.
Nov 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Enjoyed this just as much the second time around.
When reading this, I couldn’t help but think of What If? by Randall Munroe, because it’s a similar kind of book except it’s written in a very different way and it’s way more practical. Instead of answering hypothetical questions, it was a guidebook for someone who wants to restart society when stuck in the past. It was full of quips and one-liners that made me laugh out loud. My favorite running gag was that any quote mentioned in the book was credited to “you” (originally ‘the name of the perso ...more
Bryan Alkire
Feb 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
Quirky guide to basic human science and tech. The idea is an interesting format, though with the proliferation of time travel guides, the subgenre will quickly become a trope or cliché with its own conventions and such. The book is short and moves along well as everything is charts or short text. The writing is readable though becomes sophomoric at times. The info is good however and an interesting look at basic human tech. Might be useful for the post apocalypse author. The book was slightly di ...more
Jan 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
This is a delicious book that presents the origins of major/useful technologies and cultivated resources through the flimsy, completely extraneous, and delightfully amusing conceit of the reader's being stranded in time. Suppose you're a time-traveler on a one-way trip to the distant past. How will you figure out where and when you are? Having done so, how might you pick up on whatever's available to cultivate all the perqs and comforts of the contemporary civilization you've left behind? From a ...more
Rick Lees
Jan 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book was really good fun! It has a clever conceit and lighthearted voice, and also was just informative enough that it made me want to go out and try some of the 'inventions' :-)
Marco Maia Carneiro
"How to Invent Everything..." is one of the funniest books that is useful at the same time, that I've ever read.
It is put up as a manual, so there is no real order of reading it. I've found it nice to read it in the order of presenting, but the reader can start from any technology and go back to its base, escalating until the technology you need (Computers? First logic, then logic gates, then computers).

It encompasses a massive amount of information without becoming boring. It's very funny at t
How to Invent Everything is funny, informative, and brilliantly clever.
The author's entertaining style effectively communicates the practical intricacies of many essential technologies upon which modern civilization relies, from spoken language and farming through radio transmission and computer programming.
Anyone with even a passing interest in the technological underpinnings of human societies will enjoy reading this guide.
This reader, for one, will certainly be taking along a copy of How to
Jun 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely charming and definitely lives up to its blurb as the only book you need to redevelop civilization from scratch after an unfortunate time machine accident ("for which no legal liability can be assigned"). I loved the premise and the book's commitment to it, with reminders throughout that principles, theories, quotes, songs, and maneuvers can now be attributed to YOU rather than whichever famous person has the credit in our current timeline.

After you've read the introduction and underst
Lynn Schlatter
This elegant distillation of the whole of human knowledge wrapped up in a silly premise has the potential to do three sneaky things:

1. Educate you. I would defy you to read any five pages and not learn something and laugh at something. Maybe ten pages if you're a whole lot smarter than me.

2. Convince your children to do well in school. You know the typical refrain "Why do I have to learn _______? When am I ever going to use it in real life?" Now you have the perfect answer: "Because you might g
Dec 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
“Baba yetu, yetu uliye
Mbinguni yetu, yetu, amina
Baba yetu, yetu, uliye
Jina lako litukuzwe”

This book is fun as hell, but also incredibly eerie: You are a time traveler stuck in the past, and you must try to survive and rebuild all of Civilization. That’s the conceit and it’s a good one- the basis of a really enjoyable Ask Reddit thread. It gave Ryan North the chance to learn more than he needs to know about obscure technological feats and it gives us the chance to learn about humanity’s technolog
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Goodreads Librari...: Please fix spelling error in Ryan North quote 3 19 Nov 12, 2018 06:50AM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems
  • Math with Bad Drawings
  • The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World from Scratch
  • Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language
  • Humble Pi: A Comedy of Maths Errors
  • Open Borders: The Science and Ethics of Immigration
  • Exhalation: Stories
  • The Sawbones Book: The Hilarious, Horrifying Road to Modern Medicine
  • The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe: How to Know What's Really Real in a World Increasingly Full of Fake
  • To Be Taught, If Fortunate
  • Liquid Rules: The Delightful and Dangerous Substances That Flow Through Our Lives
  • The Body: A Guide for Occupants
  • Le loup
  • This Is How You Lose the Time War
  • What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions
  • Every Tool's a Hammer: Life Is What You Make It
  • Change is the Only Constant: The Wisdom of Calculus in a Madcap World
  • Medallion Status: True Stories from Secret Rooms
See similar books…
Hi, I'm Ryan! I was born in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada in 1980 and since then have written several books. You can read my Wikipedia page for more, or check out my author site at!

I'm the author of the webcomic Dinosaur Comics (that's the comic where the pictures don't change but the words do, it's better than it sounds and I've also done crazy things like turn Shakespeare into a choose-yo

Related Articles

Stand-up comedian, writer, and actress Ali Wong is adding another gig to her already packed résumé this fall: author. 44600621 Won...
72 likes · 11 comments
“Let the future tell the truth and evaluate each one according to his work and accomplishments. The present is theirs; the future, for which I really worked, is mine. —You (also, Nikola Tesla)” 2 likes
“London’s dramatic and hugely expensive sewer system—still in use today—was constructed for entirely the wrong reasons and only happened to improve public health by accident.” 2 likes
More quotes…