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

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  3,313 ratings  ·  531 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
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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)
Todd The chemistry appendix does mention what can be used for teeth

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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 Haywood
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
Bryan Alkire
Feb 10, 2020 rated it liked it
Update I now give this a 3
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
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
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
Aug 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: humor, science
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
I love the idea of books like this: here in one book, we’re going to impart to you the principles behind everything you need to know to rebuild all the comforts of home from nothing. This one has a fun gimmick: it’s been found embedded deep within rocks, and it claims to be the repair manual for a time machine. Since you can’t repair the time machine, instead here’s how to create the comforts of civilisation that you’re used to by accelerating technological progress. To that end, it has some flo ...more
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
Feb 12, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I absolutely loved this book. It’s hilarious: every chapter starts with a pun (!! pause for dramatic effect), and the whole book is littered with jokes everywhere it was making me laugh out loud every 5 minutes. I love the premise, which is that you are a timetraveller who’s embarking on time travel with a potentially faulty time machine which might leave you stranded anywhere at any point in time (possibly even before the Big Bang). This book is a “manual” that teaches you how to reinvent civil ...more
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. ...more
Nov 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Enjoyed this just as much the third 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
DeAnna Knippling
A smartass tour of humanity's most vital inventions, a fake "guide" intended for a stranded time traveler.

A nice conceit: a tech writer is assigned to produce a handbook for stranded time travelers as part of a legal requirement. It allows the author to cover the breadth of history while making snarky remarks about how long it took to, say, invent the wheel as a method of transportation. I had a lot of "aha" moments where something in the book provided perspective. "That wasn't that hard to expl
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' :-) ...more
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
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Goodreads Librari...: Please fix spelling error in Ryan North quote 3 19 Nov 12, 2018 06:50AM  

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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

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