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How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  10,572 ratings  ·  1,202 reviews

The world's most entertaining and useless self-help guide, from the brilliant mind behind the wildly popular webcomic xkcd and the million-selling What If? and Thing Explainer

For any task you might want to do, there's a right way, a wrong way, and a way so monumentally bad that no one would ever try it. How To is a guide to the third kind of approach. It's full of h

Paperback, 308 pages
Published September 5th 2019 by John Murray (first published September 3rd 2019)
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Average rating 4.17  · 
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 ·  10,572 ratings  ·  1,202 reviews

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Miranda Reads
Feb 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobook
3.75 stars

If you’re worried that the house will blow away, or that some prankster will attach jet engines and send it blasting off into the distance...
Then this is the book for you!

If you have ever been curious about how to dig a hole, how to cross a river or how to jump really high - then look no further!
If you want to beat a high jumper, you have two options:
1. Dedicate your life to athletic training, from an early age, until you become the world's best high jumper.
2. Cheat.
Mario the lone bookwolf
Nonfiction books that are based on answering questions in unconventional ways, giving different answers to one question like in John Brockman´s series, extrapolating ideas and general taking the boooooring out of science, are a great way to get everyone fascinated.

This book has some crazy, but well explained and profound ideas for more or less daily problems and gets one interested in the technology and physics of many ignored details of life. Mind games, creativity techniques, free association
Tucker  (TuckerTheReader)

Many thanks to Brooke at Penguin Random House for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

So… How To. I didn’t love it but I didn’t hate it. I painfully choose to give this 3.5 stars. I am honestly as shocked as the rest of you. There were quite a few things I loved and quite a few things I didn’t. I’d like to get the negative out of the way so here we go.

For starters, this book is not What If. I know you’re probably thinking Yeah, no sh*t I (foolishly) expected this to be like What I
Nov 02, 2019 rated it liked it

Did you ever wonder how to build a lava moat around your house or how to send a package from space?  Well, you're in luck!  Randall Munroe's How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems explains how to do these and several other weird things you might have wondered about.  I'm not saying you're weird if you've pondered these things; I'm saying they're weird questions.  Don't blame me:  The author himself claims they're absurd.  Other absurd questions asked (and answered) in th
Dec 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019-shelf, humor, science
As always, when I read a funny book, BUT I'm also listening to a narration by Wil Wheaton, I'm suddenly nearly incapable of figuring out whether I love the book for its content or presentation.


Fortunately, I had a great time with both, seamlessly upping my chuckle factor by a few magnitudes as I learn how wrong it would be to make a really, really huge teakettle. *hint* (the rivers of lava might make your homeowner's association a bit upset.)

The most fascinating feature, other than just e
Alex Givant
Dec 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: best-of-2019, science
Excellent set of real life problems with unreal solutions, but all of them based on pure science. Each of them are to enjoy and think about.
Sep 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, humor
So much about author Randall Munroe can be explained by a quote from this book:
I really love that we can ask physics ridiculous questions like, “What kind of gas mileage would my house get on the highway?” and physics has to answer us.
Most of the rest can be illuminated by his approach to most topics in this book. Tongue firmly planted in cheek and nerd flag raised proudly high. Frankly, I have no idea why it's taken this long for the creator of the brilliant xkcd comic to tell us the winning st
Natalie Monroe
Dec 21, 2019 rated it it was ok
A bit too sciencey for my tastes. I skimmed the math-filled parts and the rest of it just wasn't enough to tickle the funny bone.

Dec 27, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Randall Munroe is the author of the web site, The web site is a collection of science-oriented absurdist cartoons. If you have never had the opportunity to visit this web site--do so immediately! It's a lot of fun!.

This book follows closely on the web site's approach, and that of his previous book What If?: Randall Munroe Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions Summary & Takeaways. This is obviously a "How To ..." sort of book. Some of the questions it asks, like "Ho
Jun 27, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Munroe writes the xkcd comic, so this is humorous, but there are a lot examples of the proper use of physics. Besides, who doesn't want to explore the myriad ways to dig a hole or create a lava moat around your house? I thought I'd have to read another book in between, but between intriguing investigations & Wil Wheaton narrating, it had no trouble keeping my attention & it kept me chuckling the whole time.

I'll let the ToC speak for the rest. Those marked with an arrow weren't in the audio book.
Jan 21, 2020 rated it liked it
(3.5/5 stars) This book is so interesting and entertainingly funny lol Randall Munroe is someone you hope to meet at a party and get to laugh at his jokes while at the same time he teaches you things XD

Really odd random questions providing scientific answers. You learn some random scientific facts along the way. They're questions you'd never ask but once you hear it you want to know the answer. Some of the questions are kinda boring lol but overall this book is entertaining and interesting

"How t

Nov 28, 2019 rated it it was ok

Really liked the author's first book, this one just was too ridiculous. I ended up skipping big sections of it.
Aug 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
I don't know how Randall does it but every single book he writes is as good as every single XKCD he puts out.

Want to know how to have a pool party? It's not as easier as it sounds. First you have to build a pool, and to build a pool, you're gonna need a lot of math, and math is fun!

No, seriously. Math is fun.

This book revolves around the literal how-tos when it comes to doing things. Let's take our pool for example. Do you know the compression strength of the material you're about to build your
Dec 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Looking back over my year of reading, it really feels like I read more crappy books than good ones. Even the ones I enjoyed, I tended to fill my reviews with the things that were flawed and disappointing. Is it my cynicism? Is it the lurid state of book publishing these days?
Well, whatever it is, this book is a refreshing remedy, and a perfect high-note to end my 2019 reading with. I earnestly don't think I had a single problem with "How To: Absurd Science Advice for Common Real-World Problems".
Elvina Zafril
Sep 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: pansing
I enjoyed myself reading this book. This is the first book I read written by this author.

Since this is a non fiction book, there’s no plot or main characters to talk about.

How To is informative and easy to read. A lot of How tos in doing things. Even how to send a package. There are some useful informations that I think I can use. For example how to take a selfie with Venus in the background, how to blow out birthday candles with a jet engine and most interesting part is how to dispose of the b
Peter Derk
Sep 12, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I like this shit. So impractical!

How come we didn't learn more impractical science in school? You can learn so many scientific ideas by applying them in ridiculous ways to ridiculous degrees. Instead we did shit like filling out charts of Jupiter's mass. Which I do not remember, is not a useful fact, probably will not play any part in my life, and saying that something is a bajillion kilometers in diameter? That doesn't mean shit. Let's talk about how long it would take to drive the circumferen
Quirky, funny, and at times ridiculous. I love Munroe’s sense of humor and his approach to all matters but this was just okay for me.
Dec 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is an abridged review, to see the full one with all the pictures please visit

Randall Munroe is the engineer/cartoonist behind that science positive comic strip with the stick figures that you may have seen before.

I've been a fan of his for years now. He has an absurdist sense of humor and marvelous creativity, both of which are on full display in his latest book How To.

How to answers many every day and not so every day questions such as how to dig a
Read all my reviews on

How to ... Read This Review?

Traditionally one would open the website or perhaps the app and simply read the review I am about to write. But what if you prefer something more unconventional, or maybe you have been staring at screens more than enough lately, but would still like to know what it says. You could ask/hire someone to read it for you, of course. But what if you were to hire an add-plane and read it from there. Nice outdoors.
Dec 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
It is very funny, but there were some questions I wanted usable answers to.
Nov 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: blue
The principal problem with Randall Munroe books, is that they go by way too fast. I like to savor a good book, reading a little bit at a time, then thinking that part over for a day before going on to the next. With "how to", like its predecessor "what if", I gobbled it up in a day or two. Someone with money please fund a grant to get Mary Roach and Randall Munroe to write a series of science textbooks for junior high and high schoolers.

There are chapters on how to take out a drone with a tennis
Nov 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Absurdly fun just like Randall Monroe always is.
An unfortunately severe case of ‘I wanted to like it more than I did’. Randall Munroe’s latest book is How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems, following in the vein of his previous work, What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions . And, fairly or unfairly, I keep comparing the two books in my head, and How To just keeps coming up short.

How To works by taking straightforward questions (“How to Jump Really High”, “How to Ski”) and answering th
Alex Richey
If you've ever wondered how to contain an above-ground pool with just cheese, or how to open many thousands of water bottles at the same time with nuclear weapons in order to fill your pool, this is the audiobook for you. And while the audiobook cannot provide the illustrations that the physical book includes, Wil Wheaton's friendly and straightforward narration style paired with occasionally exaggerated theatrical moments more than make up for them. Wheaton's conversational tone creates an exce ...more
Jun 06, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
Not as absolutely amazing as What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions but still very, very good.

The kind of entertainment that makes me even weirder at parties.
Nov 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
4.5 I did not like this format quite as well as that of What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions, but the humor and fascinating scientific detail were just as amusing to read. ...more
Aug 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Another smart and hilarious offering from Randall Munroe! The flip-side follow-up to What If? is every bit as brainy and had people wondering about me as I guffawed in the library's lunch room.

Sure, you could fill your swimming pool with a hose, but you might need to resort to bottled water; and if you need to empty them all quickly, you might consider using a nuclear bomb. This is how it would work . . .

There are also helpful (?) instructions for how to heat your home with lava, which sports
Sep 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The book in and of itself is hilarious. Randall Munroe explains how to do things in a completely complicated fashion. There's no reason you'd need monarch butterflies to send a package, but Munroe discusses the idea regardless of ridiculousness. It's a great read. ...more
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Randall Munroe, a former NASA roboticist, is the creator of the webcomic xkcd and the author of xkcd: volume 0. The International Astronomical Union recently named an asteroid after him; asteroid 4942 Munroe is big enough to cause a mass extinction if it ever hits a planet like Earth. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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