Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,
Nicholas
nwhyte

Thing Explainer, by Randall Munroe

Second paragraph of third page (which is about a Heavy Metal Power Building):
Some of the metals they use can be found in the ground, but only in a few places. Other kinds can be made by people - but only with the help of a power building that's already running.
About three years ago, Munroe (or possibly his fans) originated a meme where you had to describe your job using only the thousand most common words in English. I had a go; since then I've changed jobs, and now I would simply say that:
People pay me to tell their stories to important people who can help them.
Thing Explainer is in a way a one-joke book, about how we can break down complex questions into simple words. But it's a brilliant challenge to any of us who use words for a living, which is probably most of you reading this, to keep our writing and speaking clear and simple, and not try to sound clever by using long words which we and our listeners may not completely understand. Some of Thing Explainer is a bit contrived - the technical explanations of machinery sometimes dumb down (though the nuclear power station is a good counterexample) and the cutesy interpretations of space probe names are not really very enlightening; but other bits are very impressive, my favourite being the United States Constitution, "The Laws of the Land":
BEFORE WE START

Hi; we’re the people in these little countries called “states,” and we want to get together into a country. We want to make everything nice and quiet, keep anyone from hurting us, and make sure our kids will be free. That’s why we’re making a country. Here are its laws:

BOOK ONE: The Law Makers

Part One: Laws are made by a group called Law Makers. There are two rooms of Law Makers: the House and the Serious Room.

Part Two: The people pick Law Makers to send to the House for two years at a time. Bigger states get to have more people in the House. Oh, and the country needs to count its people sometimes so it can figure out how many chairs the room needs.

Part Three: Every state sends two Law Makers to the Serious Room for six years at a time. They can’t be too young.

Part Four: States make the laws about where and how people get together to pick leaders and decide what the country should do.

Part Five: When the Law Makers get together, they should write down what they talk about.

Part Six: Law Makers get paid. They can’t get in trouble for what they say at work, but they also can’t do any other job for the country while they’re Law Makers.
And so on. The geology bits are also pretty lovely, exploiting Munroe's gift for illustration to the full. If you're a fan of xkcd, this is a bit different and yet similar.

This rose simultaneously to the top of two of my lists: non-fiction as recommended by you guys, and graphic stories in English. The next book on the first list is The Cuckoo's Egg: Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of Computer Espionage, by Cliff Stoll; the next on the second is The Unwritten Vol. 6: Tommy Taylor and the War of Words, by Mike Carey.
Tags: bookblog 2016, comics
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