Thing Explainer

Thing Explainer

Complicated Stuff in Simple Words

Book - 2015
Average Rating:
Rate this:
The creator of the popular webcomic "xkcd" uses line drawings and just ten hundred common words to provide simple explanations for how things work, including microwaves, bridges, tectonic plates, the solar system, the periodic table, helicopters, and other essential concepts.
Contents: Page before the book starts : Introduction
Shared space house : International Space Station
Tiny bags of water you're made of : Animal cell
Heavy metal power building : Nuclear reactor
Red world space car : Curiosity Rover
Bags of stuff inside you : Human torso
Boxes that make clothes smell better : Washing machine and dryer
Earth's surface : Physical map of the Earth
Under a car's front cover : Car engine
Sky boat with turning wings : Helicopter
The US's laws of the land : US Constitution
The US's Laws of the Land : USS Constitution
Food-heating radio box : Microwave
Shape checker
Lifting room : elevator
Boat that goes under the sea : Submarine
Box that cleans food holders : Dishwasher
Big flat rocks we live on : Tectonic plates
Cloud maps : Weather maps
Tree : Tree
Machine for burning cities : Nuclear bomb
Water room : Toilet and sink
Computer building : Data center
US Space Team's Up Goer Five : Saturn V rocket
Sky boat pusher : Jet engine
Stuff you touch to fly a sky boat : Cockpit
Big tiny thing hitter : Large Hardon Collider
Power boxes : Batteries
Hole-making city boat : Oil rig
Stuff in the Earth we can burn : Mines
Tall roads : Bridges
Bending computer : Laptop
Worlds around the sun : Solar system
Picture taker : Camera
Writing sticks : Pen and pencil
Hand computer : Smart phone
Colors of light : Electromagnetic spectrum
The sky at night : Night sky
The pieces everything is made of : Periodic table
Our star : Sun
How to count things : Units of measurement
Room for helping people : Hospital bed
Playing fields : Athletic fields
Earth's past : Geologic periods of Earth
Tree of life : Life's family tree
The ten hundred words people use the most : The ten hundred most common words in our language
Helpers : Acknowledgments
Sky toucher : Skyscraper
Publisher: Boston : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015
Copyright Date: ©2015
Branch Call Number: 500 M
Characteristics: 61 pages : illustrations ; 34 cm
ISBN: 9780544668256


From Library Staff

Not only does the book live up to its title, it is also short and contains wonderful pictures.

From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment
Oct 23, 2018

Hilarious!!!! Great illustrations and very simple. Easy to understand in a short, simple way.

Aug 26, 2018

Agree with the commenter below: "The illustrations were excellent, one reason I looked at the book. However, the terminology used was obtuse, inane and ridiculous to say the least."

I flipped through the illustrations for a little while, but I found the text unreadable after more than a few minutes. I think readers would only find this enjoyable if they're interested in trying to solve a puzzle as they read.

It was an interesting premise, but it's not practical.

May 17, 2017

This book was fantastic! The illustrations were really fun and in the stick man style of this author. He explained everyday things in simple language like a microwave, or washing machine. He also explained more complicated things like the space station and a nuclear rector. He then explained things or concepts about the earth, like the tree of life and the age of the earth and the earths crust. It was a really fun read over all. The only issue that I had was that sometimes the language was too simplified and actually made the explanation more complicated, which was the case for the periodic table explanation.

Apr 04, 2017

The illustrations were excellent, one reason I looked at the book. However, the terminology used was obtuse, inane and ridiculous to say the least. Rather than say this Saturn rocket and it's capsule plus the lunar module... It was like reading this thingy is connected to that thingy, both parts of the big gadget over there. Now don't forget the important watcha-ma-call-it that works with this long tube. I suspect if a parent is showing this to a child that unless he/she knows what the correct terminology is, they too would be lost any lessons learned would be minimal. I wish it were better.

JCLHopeH Jun 14, 2016

I love Randall Munroe's XKCD comic, even when it often goes over my head. In Thing Explainer, even the most complex topics get a little easier to understand. Munroe creatively breaks down a variety of intricate systems using his original strategy for explaining "Up Goer Five," NASA's Saturn V Rocket ( simple illustrations and concise descriptions using only the 1000 most common English words. It's not necessarily the clearest explanation, but the fun illustrations and core vocabulary make for a great coffee table read.

Mar 20, 2016

Full points for taking complex systems and explaining them simply, but constraining the explanation to 1000 common words only is an annoying affectation. "Sky Boat" instead of "Airplane"? "Hanging Road" instead of "Bridge"? Some will argue that this reduces the objects to their functional essence, but using a few commonly understood words outside of the 1000 would not have taken away from the brilliantly simple explanations and diagrams in the book.

PimaLib_JenM Feb 22, 2016

While I highly recommend "What if? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions" (which was so good that I gifted it to my brother), I don't think this one quite works. The pictures are fantastic, as his always are, but the adherence to very simple words is just, well, too simple. Some of it is funny, but not enough of it to make me read through the whole thing.

Feb 22, 2016

he could have used a few more words to make sense of this book! nice pics, but the text is TOO simple, way too simple!

Feb 22, 2016

Hilarious but also really informative!

Jan 20, 2016

The premise of the book is that it explains stuff to you. The truth of the matter is that unless there's a companion guide to this - an online guide even, that has the diagrams with proper names of "stuff" to refer to as one comes upon each page - it's just not very useful as a thing that 'splain stuff to anyone.

It's fun to go through if you ALREADY have basic knowledge of this stuff though.

For those with eye sight problems: the text is very small. Very very small. Tiny. Expect to use a magnifier.

View All Comments


Add Age Suitability
Oct 23, 2018

lanaleif thinks this title is suitable for All Ages

May 17, 2017

csrestall thinks this title is suitable for All Ages


Add a Summary
May 17, 2017

It is difficult to give a summary of all of the things in this book so i will try to list them as best i can.
Space Station
Mars Rover
Washing Machine/ Dryer
The Earths Crust
The Age of the Earth
The Tree of Life
A Tree
Organs inside a Human
A Cell
A Helicopter
Sports Fields
An Apartment Building
The Sun
A Cockpit and Plane Engine
Computer/ Laptop/ Smartphone

Each topic is accompanied by a simplistic explanation. I am sure I am missing a few.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at Skokie Public Library

To Top