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How to Invent Everything
Cover of How to Invent Everything
How to Invent Everything
A Survival Guide for the Stranded Time Traveler
Borrow Borrow
An NPR Best Book of 2018

"How to Invent Everything is such a cool book. It's essential reading for anyone who needs to duplicate an industrial civilization quickly." —Randall Munroe, xkcd creator and New York Times-bestselling author of What If?
The only book you need if you're going back in time

What would you do if a time machine hurled you thousands of years into the past. . . and then broke? How would you survive? Could you improve on humanity's original timeline? And how hard would it be to domesticate a giant wombat?
With this book as your guide, you'll survive—and thrive—in any period in Earth's history. Bestselling author and time-travel enthusiast Ryan North shows you how to invent all the modern conveniences we take for granted—from first principles. This illustrated manual contains all the science, engineering, art, philosophy, facts, and figures required for even the most clueless time traveler to build a civilization from the ground up. Deeply researched, irreverent, and significantly more fun than being eaten by a saber-toothed tiger, How to Invent Everything will make you smarter, more competent, and completely prepared to become the most important and influential person ever. You're about to make history. . . better.
An NPR Best Book of 2018

"How to Invent Everything is such a cool book. It's essential reading for anyone who needs to duplicate an industrial civilization quickly." —Randall Munroe, xkcd creator and New York Times-bestselling author of What If?
The only book you need if you're going back in time

What would you do if a time machine hurled you thousands of years into the past. . . and then broke? How would you survive? Could you improve on humanity's original timeline? And how hard would it be to domesticate a giant wombat?
With this book as your guide, you'll survive—and thrive—in any period in Earth's history. Bestselling author and time-travel enthusiast Ryan North shows you how to invent all the modern conveniences we take for granted—from first principles. This illustrated manual contains all the science, engineering, art, philosophy, facts, and figures required for even the most clueless time traveler to build a civilization from the ground up. Deeply researched, irreverent, and significantly more fun than being eaten by a saber-toothed tiger, How to Invent Everything will make you smarter, more competent, and completely prepared to become the most important and influential person ever. You're about to make history. . . better.
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    2

    A special note if you are stranded between 200,000 BCE and 50,000 BCE and you are thinking, "The humans here are crazy and I am definitely doomed forever"

    Great news! You can actually be the most influential person in history!

    As your careful study of the flowchart on the previous pages likely revealed, humans first evolved around the year 200,000 BCE. We call them "anatomically modern humans," and they mark the moment when humans with skeletons exactly the same as ours first appeared. As an experiment, we could put your skeleton beside that of an anatomically modern human from 200,000 years ago and it would be impossible to tell them apart.

    We will not be performing this experiment, but we could.

    But what's fascinating is despite the fact that modern human bodies were now available, nothing really changed. For more than 150,000 years, these humans behaved pretty much the same as any other protohuman species. And then, around the year 50,000 BCE, something happened: these anatomically modern humans suddenly started acting like us. They began to fish, create art, bury their dead, and decorate their bodies. They began to think abstractly.

    Most important, they began to talk.

    The technology of language—and it is a technology, it's something we've had to invent, and it took us over 100,000 years to do it—is the greatest gift we humans have ever given ourselves. You can still think without language—close your eyes and imagine a really cool hat and you've just done it—but it limits the kinds of thoughts you can have. Cool hats are easy to imagine, but the meaning of the sentence "Three weeks from tomorrow, have your oldest stepsister meet me on the southeast corner two blocks east from the first house we egged last Halloween" is extremely difficult to nail down without having concrete words for the concepts of time, place, numbers, relationships, and spooky holidays. And if you're struggling to express complex thoughts even in your own head, it's pretty evident that you won't be having those complex thoughts as often, or at all.

    It was language that gave us the ability to imagine better, grander, more world-changing ideas than we otherwise could, and most important, it gave us the ability to store an idea not just in our own heads but inside the minds of others. With language, information can spread at the speed of sound, or, if you're using sign language instead of speaking, at the speed of light. Shared ideas lead to communities, which are the basis of culture and civilization, and which brings us to our first Civilization Pro Tip:

    CIVILIZATION PRO TIP: Language is the technology from which all others spread, and you've already got it for free.

    This huge expanse of time—the 150,000 years between 200,000 BCE, when humans first appeared, to 50,000 BCE, when they finally started talking—is where you can have the single greatest effect on history. If you can help humans of this era become behaviorally modern as soon as they became anatomically modern—if you can teach them to talk—then you can give every civilization on the planet a 150,000-year head start.

    It's probably worth the effort.

    We once thought the change from anatomical to behavioral modernity was due to some physical change in our brains. Perhaps a random genetic mutation in one human—who suddenly found themselves able to communicate in ways no animal had done before—provided us with the huge advantage of a new capacity for abstract thought? However, the historical record doesn't support the idea of this great leap forward. The things we most associate with behavioral...

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from July 9, 2018
    North (Romeo and/or Juliet) presents a witty pop science guide intended for those demanding times when one needs to create a civilization from scratch. Framed as a manual for a time traveler, the illustrated narrative begins with a series of questions in flowchart-form to help users figure out where in time they’ve landed: Are there plants? Are there dinosaurs? Has the Big Bang happened yet? If the traveler in question is lucky enough to have landed some 200,000 years ago, North cheerfully announces, “you could actually be the most influential person in history.” Start by introducing the basics, five technologies fundamental to civilization: spoken and written language, “non-sucky” numbers (more than tally marks, and preferably including fractions and zero), the scientific method, and a calorie surplus, via agriculture and domesticating animals. The last is important, North explains, for those who don’t want to spend all their time hunting and gathering food. “Civilization Pro Tips” sidebars sprinkled throughout dispense additional suggestions (“Don’t forget to plant your legumes”), and wry humor keeps the discussion lighthearted. North’s “survival guide” is a fun, thoughtful, and thoroughly accessible reference for curious readers, students, and world-builders, as well as wayward time travelers.

  • Kirkus

    July 15, 2018
    You've got a time machine. Now what? This good-natured, sharp user's manual has plenty of solid suggestions for building a world that works."The FC3000 is the most reliable time machine on the rental market today," coos the narrator--in robotic voice, one assumes--of North's (Romeo and/or Juliet: A Chooseable-Path Adventure, 2016, etc.) latest, apparently geared to teenagers but at times a challenge for even the tech-savviest of grown-up nerds. That voice ought to remind you of HAL in 2001, since the time machine rebels, or at least refuses to function, leaving the traveler stranded in some ugly time of history needing a quick technological fix. Let's say, for instance, that you land in a world innocent of charcoal, "the most useful substance you can make out of some wood and a hole in the ground." Now, why would charcoal be an improvement for humankind? Because, among other things, it renders water safe to drink. North goes on to explain the whys and wherefores of oxygen, the terrestrial atmosphere, the science of dry distillation, and other wonkiness before getting into the actual making of charcoal, by which time readers will have attained the sense that it was a momentous invention when charcoal occurred to someone all those years ago. Just so with watermills and windmills, the printing press, logic gates, and other hallmarks of civilization, some of them the kinds of things you didn't know you needed until after the fact and indispensable thereafter. North's book isn't quite as information-rich--or as apocalyptic--as Lewis Dartnell's The Knowledge (2014), but it's a kindred spirit, packed with cool, fun, and useful stuff such as the makings of a rehydration drink rich in electrolytes, "which is of course just the sciency-sounding way to say there's salt in it."A friendly and thought-provoking reference, just the thing for the bright kid in the family, to say nothing of the neighborhood time traveler.

    COPYRIGHT(2018) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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How to Invent Everything
A Survival Guide for the Stranded Time Traveler
Ryan North
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