New book: Thing Explainer

A while ago, I posted the comic Up Goer Five, an annotated blueprint of the Saturn V rocket with all the parts described using only the thousand most common English words.

Today, I’m excited to announce that I’m publishing a collection of large-format (9″x13″) Up Goer Five-style blueprints. The book is full of detailed diagrams of interesting objects, along with explanations of what all the parts are and how they work.

The titles, labels, and descriptions are all written using only the thousand most common English words. Since this book explains things, I’ve called it Thing Explainer.

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The diagrams in Thing Explainer cover all kinds of neat stuff—including computer buildings (datacenters), the flat rocks we live on (tectonic plates), the stuff you use to steer a plane (airliner cockpit controls), and the little bags of water you’re made of (cells).

Thing Explainer will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on November 24th. You can preorder it now (AmazonBarnes & Noble, Indie Bound, Hudson); click here for links to more information and options.

Or, in the spirit of the book:

I had a good time drawing Up Goer Five, so I decided to draw more pictures like that and make a book of them. The book explains things, so it’s called Thing Explainer.

You can’t have Thing Explainer yet, but if you want, you can order it now, and you’ll get it about a month before the end of the year.

Touch these blue words to learn how to get Thing Explainer.

121 thoughts on “New book: Thing Explainer

  1. This is amazing. I pre-ordered What If and was absolutely delighted with it, so I’m sure I’ll be just as happy when this arrives. Roll on November.

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  2. First!
    Also, that is one of my all time favorite comics. I’m really excited now.

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  3. I’ve been trying to learn Spanish, and I’d love to have a copy of Thing Explainer written using only the thousand most common words in Spanish! Please get to work on it right away. Don’t worry, I’ll buy the English version too.

    Seriously, a dual-language version (look around, lots of those exist) could wind up as a standard text in Spanish classes…

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    • I agree! This could end up as standard reading in English-learning classes over seas as well!

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  4. Is this gonna be translated in other languages? I bet the translators are looking forward to it 😀

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  5. Super excited for this! The up goer five poster is a favorite of my students, can’t wait to see what is explained in simple language.

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  6. How long does it take you to switch out of simple speak mode now that the book is finished?

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  7. As someone who has a 9-year old relative I get Christmas presents for, I have to ask… Do you expect that this book will actually be appropriate for kids? Or will it be more using the childlike language to make jokes that only those who already have a passing familiarity with the subject matter will understand?

    Either way, I have plans to make, just need to know *which* plans…

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    • Ask your young friend to read the “Up Goer Five” comic. If s/he thinks it’s interesting and understands it, get her/him the book. If not, it might be too complicated for actual kids, or at least the kid in your life.

      I’ve found with my limited experience with kids (volunteering at a library, etc) kids are their own best judge of what reading level / science literacy level is appropriate for them.

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    • I have no idea whether this is appropriate for most kids, but I know I’d have devoured it at six, whether or not I knew all the words. This is the number one book I would want in the house if I ever had a kid.

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    • It’s not for children only, it’s for anyone who speaks English as a second language for instance, it’s also a great democratizer for even educated people who don’t know that they don’t know something.

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    • I touched the blue words that said Up Goer Five, Philip, and if the new book is similar the answer seems to be: a bit of both…

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    • Take a gander at Up Goer Five as a possible point of reference to this question. While the comic does provide a base explanation of the functions of the Up Goer, a lot of the humor is derived from oversimplification– as adults we find it humorous because we can deduce the *intended* wording from the clumsy and limited lexicon that the author is forced to utilize.

      For a 9-year-old, much of the humor will be missed (as a result of lack of knowledge, and of possessing a smaller lexicon), and the content itself might be fairly confusing (e.g. referring to Helium as “funny voice air”). This book would be more suited for someone in their mid-teens, or older.

      Suggestion: buy the book anyway. If my hunch is correct, your 9-year-old relative will be older someday, and you can gift the book then.

      (Note that the aforementioned opinions are based on my experience as a Developmental Psychologist, but bear in mind that there are almost always exceptions and outliers)

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  8. If I touch the blue words and tell the ordering website thing to save one book for me, do I get any bonus for telling it?

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  9. Where can I find a list of the 1,000 words? I want to start a contest to see if anyone can get an academic article published using only these 1,000 words!

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  10. Will it be available as an e-book as well? Some of us do not purchase the physical things no more…

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  11. I’m curious: what if we took the list of 1000 most commonly used English words and compared it to your list of your 1000 most commonly used words (perhaps from What If): would they be interestingly difference?

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  12. Sounds great! Question though: have you just replaced words where necessary or have you tried to write in a very simplistic grammar as well? I think I’d actually prefer the former, but I look forwards to reading it.

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  13. This is the BEST news. As a Sea Monkey I must ask: Did the Water House make the cut? Either way, I’m super excited for this. Thank you, Randall!

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  14. Awesome ! I was wondering what you were working on, and now, you have answered my question! One question – are you planning on releasing prints from this book, or do I need to buy multiple copies so I (and everyone I gift this to) can frame our favorites? Nevermind – I will just double my pre-order, and give everyone two copies.
    Like someone else posted – thanks for making my Christmas shopping easy!

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  15. Is that a tiny Seattle I see on the cover, in the lahar plain of a nearby stratovolcano? Well, I guess I have to buy it.

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  16. Glad to see that “book” is still on the list of the thousand most common English words. I worry sometimes.
    “Many long, long Tweets on paper stuck together…”

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  17. Not available on amazon.ca just yet I guess. I’d prefer to preorder from there than amazon.com since my Prime is for the Canadian one only.

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  18. Nice! I saw the confirmed international editions. Are there plans to release a Spanish edition?

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