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

4.25  ·  Rating details ·  357 ratings  ·  81 reviews

Get ready to make history... better.

What would you do if you had a time machine that took you hundreds or thousands of years into the past... and then broke? How would you survive? Could you rebuild civilization faster than it took us the first time? And how hard would it be to domesticate a giant wombat?

In How to Invent Everything, bestselling author and time-travel ent

Kindle Edition, 464 pages
Published September 18th 2018 by Virgin Digital
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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  ·  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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Herman Wu
Oct 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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.
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.

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.
Stuart Fraser
Nov 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018-finished
As someone who has previously devoured everything by Ryan North I could get my hands on, I was thrilled by this informative and pun-filled book. North suffuses all of his work with the kindness of a nerdy dad whose jokes are never offensive and whose sense of optimism is buoyed by how random and slow technological development was.

While the how-to manual parts are excellently written (North is great at technical details), what I enjoyed most about this book was getting to spend time thinking abo
Other books strive to give someone an enchiridion to rebuild after a disaster or if stranded on a desert island but few approach the task with such emphasis on the basics as well as the humor as this one does. The book starts with a very low base, like how to invent non-sucky numbers, language, or other such things. The author posits that if one's goal in time travel were to move humanity forward the most the fastest, introducing anatomically modern humans to useful language could shave tens of ...more
Nov 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
How to Invent Everything is a delightfully useful book. One could read it straight through, as I just did, and be amused by the Douglas Adams-like world of bureaucracy Ryan North spins around the FC3000™ Time Machine and its company's refusal to accept any legal liability for stranding the reader at an undetermined point in the earth's past. (Also, there's a bit of drama about Chad. Ugh, Chad.) OR, one could do what I plan to do, which is purchase my own copy to use as a reference guide, just to ...more
Oct 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The premise: you traveled back in time, but now your time machine is broken. This book is the instruction manual to repair your time machine, but it turns out that repairing it is so complicated, it was deemed easier to teach you how to rebuild civilization from the ground up.

First, the caveats: this may be more of what my dad used to call a "bathroom book" than something you'll want to read straight through. By necessity (just look at the title) it is quite extensive and some of the topics grab
Sep 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
Disclaimer: I received this book from GoodReads as part of the First Reads program.

This book is a total delight to read. That's all you need to know, but I'll go into some more detail.

The book is a work of history, a work of science, a work of technology and a work of humor, all wrapped up in a veneer of science fiction. In an introductory note to the readers, the author claims to have found this book embedded in rock, made of an unknown indestructible material. It is allegedly a manual to be u
Oct 31, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
I received this book as part of a First Reads promotion.

First off, I really enjoyed this book. Very much a tongue-in-cheek look at what it would take if you were ever stranded in the distant past, this book mainly points out how incredibly long it took to discover (or rediscover) many of the technologies that we take for granted today. Going from the very basic (communication and writing) to the more complex (trigonometry and building computers), the book would actually be pretty useful if you w
Sep 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you ever need to rebuild civilization from the ground up, make sure you have Ryan North with you. If kidnapping is not your thing, then at least make sure you have this book. I wouldn't recommend taking the audio though, because if the power to your portable (music) listening device dies before you get around to "inventing" electricity and/or batteries, you're still screwed.

Filled with really useful information (and some eye-rollingly bad puns) and delivered in a charming, accessible manner.
Oct 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is extremely useful even if you're not a time-traveller stuck in the past. Ryan North manages to provide the fundamentals of civilization in a readable, entertaining manner. I never realized how much of civilization's advancements is stretched out over millennia for NO GOOD REASON. It has all of Ryan North's trademarks - a large number of footnotes, lots of fourth-wall breaking commentary, some subtle fictional undercurrents, and a lot of entertaining information. The book includes all ...more
Nov 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Fascinating. I'm a dedicated Ryan North superfan so of course this book shot up to the top of my to-read list ... and I was not disappointed.
It's funny and incredibly informative. I have to admit that even with the clear explanations I still found some of the topics daunting and am very glad that I do not have to singlehandedly lead the reinvention of human civilization (YET).
In addition to learning a ton -- about how the inventors of forceps were monsters, about how long humans were a going con
Jules Bertaut
This book was a bit disappointing. It's got a kinda funny premise: it's all the technology needed to recreate the modern world, in case you're a time traveler and get stuck back in the past. It's probably the sort of thing that either you like it or you think it's super annoying, but I liked it. My problem with the book is that it wouldn't actually help if you were stuck back in the past. There's not enough information about any of these technologies to be useful. Sure, selective breeding of she ...more
Dec 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Cute and fun. This is what I'd call a good "bathroom book." I can flip through, read a short section at random and learn something (albeit, condensed! and with style!) The print is fairly tiny, so keep that in mind if you have trouble with your eyes. I'm mentioning that because the book will be a present for my dad whose eyesight is bad and my fingers are crossed he will still be able to enjoy it. :-)

I wouldn't stake my survival on a book like this--it's kind of like the cliff notes of history'
Olivia Ambrose
So cool! I now have an answer to that classic question, "If you were stranded on a desert island and could only take one book with you, what book would you choose?" I want this one! "How to Invent Everything" is literally what the title says. It's a guide to inventing everything you would need to rebuild civilization. North is very good at taking very complex things and simplifying them down so that they can be understood by the layman. Did I know anything about how to make concrete or the theor ...more
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Goodreads Librari...: Please fix spelling error in Ryan North quote 3 16 Nov 12, 2018 06:50AM  
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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