[Review] Thing Explainer - Randall Munroe - english


review thing explainer randall munroe the printrovert

A complete book only with the 1000 most common words? Interesting. New explanations and drawings from the “What if”-author? AWESOME! 

Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words, things are explained in the style of Up Goer Five, using only drawings and a vocabulary of the 1,000 (or "ten hundred") most common words. Explore computer buildings (datacenters), the flat rocks we live on (tectonic plates), the things you use to steer a plane (airliner cockpit controls), and the little bags of water you're made of (cells).”

You can tell only from the description: the author was challenging himself. He took the quote “if you can't explain something to a first-year student, you don't really get it” to the next level and used only the 1000 most common words and his illustrations to explain the world to people, who might not know, how a mitochondrion for example exactly works. Or let me say, he TRIED to explain.

The problem is, in my opinion it’s hard to explain such complicated things with such a little amount of words. You’ll maybe understand a bit better how a mitochondrion (or whatever) works, but you won’t be able to share your new wisdom or be able to talk about it. You need the technical terms to understand scientific articles or to communicate with someone, who is for example a biologist or someone who is interested in this stuff. Technical terms are of course not in the list of the most common words, which means sometimes you have to guess wtf he actually means. For example – theres a page about the periodic table and he tries to explain which element is used in which product or where you can find it in general. But he doesn’t use the names of the elements!  So you know that the third element in first group is used in batteries, but you don’t know he’s meaning natrium because “natrium” is not a common word.
 I have to say I read this book in german (as you can tell from the photo), so of course, it’s the most common words in german. Maybe some aspects are easier in english, or maybe even more difficult. For example in Germany the direct translation to “battery” (=”Batterie”) is not that common, so it’s called “Energiebox”, which means energy box.

Awesome about this book are the illustrations. I got the hardcover edition (which is super big by the way) and it has a few fold-away pages, so you have even bigger illustrations with “explanations” in it, almost poster-like ones. My favorite ones were the pages about the earth, trees, the mitochondrion and the stars!


As a big fan of the scientific but easy to follow language in Munroe's “What if”, I secretly wished this book would be more of a “part two”, but it definitely wasn’t!  The simple language created a moment or two of  comedy, but for the most part it was a badly chosen way to have complex things explained. I actually wanted to learn something from this book, but when nothing is given its proper name it gets super confusing and annoying – sadly.

Thing Explainer | by Randall Munroe | 24.11.15 | John Murray | Softcover | 64 pages | 15,59€

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2 Kommentare

  1. Ich bin auch schon über eine Rezension dieses Buches gestolpert und es wurden dieselben Kritikpunkt. Schade, ich hätte mir mehr vom Buch gewünscht, da es wirklich nach einer originellen Idee klingt und man gleichzeitig auch was lernt. Leider scheint die Umsetzung wirklich nicht sehr gelungen zu sein.
    Ich frage mich allerdings, wie sie dieses Buch übersetzt haben. Wie du geschrieben hast, sind die meist gebrauchten Wörter in Englisch nicht dieselben wie in Deutsch. Haben die Übersetzer dann diese Wörter einfach übersetzt oder haben sie die 1000 meistgebrauchten Wörter in Deutsch genommen? Ausserdem stellt sich mir die Frage, woher sie diese Annahme haben :D
    Eine sehr gelungene Rezension, aber das Buch werd ich wohl nicht kaufen :D
    Liebe Grüsse

    1. Danke für deinen Kommentar! :)
      Ja ich wurde leider auch ziemlich enttäuscht, es war ein Rezensionsexemplar und ich bin froh, nicht das Geld dafür ausgegeben zu haben, weil ich es mir fast bestellt hätte. Kann es wirklich nur Sammlern und Leuten mit zu viel Geld empfehlen :D

      Hinten ist eine kleine Anmerkung der Übersetzer mit drin, es war wohl extrem schwer das ganze zu übersetzen :D Sie haben aber die 1000 meistbenutzten Wörter im Deutschen genommen. Also quasi komplett umformuliert und nur seine Intention übernommen.

      Liebe Grüße zurück!