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

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  974 ratings  ·  206 reviews
Get ready to make history. . . better.

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?

Don't worry: in How to Invent Everything, bestselling author and time-travel enthusiast Ryan North ha
Hardcover, 437 pages
Published September 18th 2018 by Riverhead Books
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4.18  · 
Rating details
 ·  974 ratings  ·  206 reviews

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Ryan North
Jul 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  (Review from the author)  ·  review of another edition
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!
Sep 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
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
Diane Hernandez
Sep 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
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,
Clare Hutchinson
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
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
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
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
Margaret Sankey
Oct 01, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Leo Walsh
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
Meg C
Oct 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Jakub Slámka
Mar 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Had a lot of fun with this book. Sort of a “Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy” meets “Sapiens” :)
Denis Vasilev
Jan 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Книжка как я любил в детстве - как устроено все на свете. Для меня оказалась интересной. Достаточно много рецептов цивилизации, про которые я думал что "знал", оказались неожиданными при практическом подходе
Diego Martins
Jan 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've been looking for a book like this for ages now. I've always had this weird thought: "What if for some reason one day I go back in time?" and my conclusion was that even though I know a lot of things exist I have no idea on how to reinvent them myself. This book told me exactly what I wanted to know, and now I'm sure that if I ever go back in time I'll still not know how to invent stuff because I have a terrible memory; but at least I know what book to bring with me
Dec 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Specialization gives the people in your civilization the opportunity to go further in any direction of study than any other human has gone before. It unlocks doctors who can devote their entire lives to curing disease, librarians who can devote their entire lives to ensuring the accumulated knowledge of humanity remains safe and accessible, and writers who, fresh out of school, take the first job they find and devote the most productive years of their lives to writing corporate repair manuals f ...more
Nov 08, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio-book
An Entertaining Enterprise: HOW TO INVENT EVERYTHING
This is what you need to reinvent civilization and technology if your time machine strands you in the past.

I voluntarily reviewed an advance readers copy of this book. No remuneration was exchanged and all opinions presented herein are my own except as noted.

This book is great fun, and has lots and lots of cool information that certainly would come in handy if you needed to reinvent civilization and do a
Nov 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One major reason you might check this book out is that you've enjoyed one or more of Ryan North's other writing projects. If that's the case, I can only imagine that your expectations are calibrated correctly to really enjoy this book alongside his other work.

This is, in a way, one book packaged as another, and both ingredients are key to how enjoyable it is.

What make the book fun is the time travel setting and "voice" it uses. The book is documentation for a rental-market time machine, to use i
Joe Silber
Feb 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The amount of effort it must have taken Ryan North to research and organize this book is staggering. North presents a (very simplified) overview of most of the basic technologies of civilization and how one might go about recreating them (the cute premise of the book is that it is a survival guide for a time traveler stranded in the very, very distant past). Ever play one of the "Civilization" games? Recall the "technology tree"? North basically walks you through one in short, breezy, snarky bit ...more
Herman Wu
Oct 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This guide should be required reading for not only time travelers but world-hoppers too. Steampunk Narnia yo.

Ryan North did super good. The book is densely packed with a lot of diverse information, yet an engaging and easy read. And the little tidbits from the future were great (especially the heavily expanded "complete" periodic table that goes up to 172 instead of our lame current 118).

Some sections are even pretty useful for someone stranded in a remote location in the present, like the basic
Jan 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical, humor
Pleased as punch to now have so many things named after me, thanks to having this guide to inventing them in the past and having used this book to repair my time machine by thwapping it soundly upside the processor. The only sad thing is that I never learned how to invent flutes, but having an entire family of Weber Trombones makes for a super-bright brass lining to that very tiny cloud. Overall, an A++++ guide to human civilization and doing stuff right the first time!
Dec 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I love this book. It is basically an outline of human inventions from the beginning to the early 50s ish. Told as a troubleshooting guide for misplaced Time Travelers, But it is told with a smile and wink and has a ton of tidbits and trivia that I thoroughly enjoy.

It is at its heart a reference guide to how the simple things we take for granted are done. With small chapters and brief asides its the perfect "bathroom book". Highly recommended.
Dec 06, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found the book to be quite enjoyable. It was a fun read, full of interesting facts and a lot of wit. Of course, this isn’t a book that will change your life, but it did give me more appreciation for things in our world we take for granted. The writing itself is great, and the small chapters make it easy to dive in.
Gary B
Jan 14, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2019
A helpful primer on how to invent everything!

I found the progression interesting, along with the prerequisites found in the "technology tree".

Most fascinating was how long it took humanity to discover or develop some abilities or technologies, and how often skills and knowledge was lost before being rediscovered centuries or decades later.
Nov 28, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Kristen Thorp
Nov 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Learning and laughing = winning combo.

North is the king of footnotes.
Aleksandar Karamfilov
Amazing book! If you need to read only one book to understand the world and the history of human kind this will be it.
Hayden Lane
Dec 23, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was a lot of fun!
Chad Hurd
Jan 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Whether I already knew the material, or not, this was an entertaining read. A lot of knowledge, sprinkled with humour, and delivered in a unique format.

This book deserves to be read in schools for the broad spectrum of information it doles out with humor & insight.

It may be a fictional conceit/platform, but this book is great at teaching how history, technology, & society all interweave.
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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
“Europeans—who generally like to think of themselves as being a pretty savvy lot—managed to forget and then rediscover this fact about vitamin C at least seven more times over the next five hundred years, including rediscoveries in 1593 CE, 1614 CE, 1707 CE, 1734 CE, 1747 CE, and 1794 CE, until the idea finally stuck in 1907.” 1 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.” 1 likes
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