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

4.21  ·  Rating details ·  4,593 ratings  ·  636 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

Paperback, 320 pages
Published September 5th 2019 by John Murray (first published September 3rd 2019)
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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.
Much like
Science (Fiction) Nerd Mario
Nonfiction books that are based on answering questions in unconventional ways, giving different answers to one question like in John Brockmans 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 associations

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
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 this
Dec 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019-shelf, science, humor
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
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: humor, science
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
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.


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.
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
Elvina Zafril
Sep 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
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
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.
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
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.
Alex Richey
Sep 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Audiofile Review!

I laughed out loud a LOT while listening to this one. It takes extremely ordinary scenarios and applies ridiculous amounts of science and physics (and humor!) to answer questions. I learned a lot of really fascinating and digestible tidbits of info, and I am much more equipped to take over the world and destroy everything than I was before finishing. Highly recommend!
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 them
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
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".
Preeti Ramaraj
Jan 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely loved this book. It is in a chapter form, where truly he attempts to answer absurd questions in the most scientific way possible. I got to attend his book talk at Michigan, and I received a copy then! Each chapter answers a different question, and inside, there are leading questions and subtopics too. Each chapter had me laughing at so many different points. I loved that it was soo easy to consume (Each chapter perfectly fit my night time reading schedule) and I also love how he ...more
Oct 30, 2019 rated it really liked it

An accurate description of everything I’ve worked on in my career

Not as funny as What If, but still pretty funny. I think having people write in ridiculous hypothetical scenarios just produced better content than taking ordinary things and coming up with absurd ways to do them. It’s just not practical!

That being said, there are some real gems in here (see how to land a Roc, yes the mythical bird), and also the constant references to studies you have to believe no one would have been dumb enough
Oct 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019-20-season
Just as informative, entertaining , and thought provoking as in his previous columns and online work - Munroe is the brightest star to be added to the intelligent comic firmament since Scott Adams.
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
You know how boring scientific manuals are? Not this book. Randall Munroe takes on problems---how to walk a dog, how to win an election, how to dig a hole, and oodles more---and offers solutions that are convoluted, complex, unnecessary, odd, and exceedingly funny.

I loved What If and now I'm a fan of How To. I guess I need to find a copy of Thing Explainer. I'll have to write a letter to the author, earn money to pay for the book, drive to the author's home....
Tim Jarrett
Sep 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
You know you’ve found a good book when literally every member of your family tries to grab it or read parts of it at the same time that you are.
Maciej Kuczyński
Sep 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Don't really expect any realistic answers from this book. Nonetheless, it's really entertaining to read about absurd solutions to various problems. Like how to move your house using airplane engines—or how to send someone the entire Internet using butterflies.

As with many pop-science books, I wish the author used more civilised units of measure instead of feet, gallons or—I don't know—empty milk bottles.

Note: I listened to the audiobook, which misses on the excellent drawings and jokes;
Sep 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very funny and actually educational! Despite the silly premisses, each chapter does give fundamental answers how everyday life works.
Aug 18, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Conceptually, not quite as interesting to me as What If?, but still brainy, oddball fun. The kind of book you think you're going to dip in and out of, but then end up reading for surprisingly sustained periods.
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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.
“It turns out that if you accelerate at 1 G for several years, you can reach almost any destination in the universe. After a few years have passed [traveling at that rate], the effects of relativity really start to add up. When 3 years have passed for you ... you'll have traveled nearly 10 light-years - far enough to reach many nearby stars. If you continue accelerating, it would take you less than 20 years of your time to reach a neighboring galaxy. If you keep pressing the accelerator for a little over two decades, you'll find your vehicle traveling billions of light-years per subjective "year", carrying you across a substantial fraction of the observable universe.” 1 likes
“Bats—which catch insects by emitting pulses of ultrasound and listening for the echoes—can hear up to around 150 KHz.” 0 likes
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