Book Review: How to Invent Everything – Ryan North

This book is perfect for the science and tech fan with an interest in history and a taste for humorous prose and asides, and works as a gift book.

As someone who: played a lot of Civilisation II, as a kid dreamed of living at the bottom of the garden in a tent, gobbled up the sciencey bits on Time Team, and enjoys a level of whimsy with their prose, I loved this book so much!

Committing to the premise that the reader is stuck somewhere in the distant past due to a malfunctioning time machine, North takes the reader step-by-step through how to rebuild civilisation; from how to test foods you haven’t seen before and purifying water, through to music and philosophy and computer logic. Some readers wanting straightforward facts and detailed blueprints may find the premise a bit of a gimmick, but I found the narrator’s voice added to the charm and prevented the book from becoming too much of a textbook, which it could have easily been given how much information North is conveying.

There’s a loose chronology to the book, and sections do build on others as prerequisites. However it’s possible to skip around if you’re really not interested by one particular section (no one has ever kept my rapt attention when discussing power generators – although North got close – and I wasn’t punished later for my poor recollection). Given the density of information, particularly the inclusion of lots of footnotes, this is a book that’ll take you a while to get through, but if you’re inspired by any of the sections and fancy giving some of the easy technologies a go, it’ll become a valuable resource on the shelf. I even found myself wondering how to please the little pyromaniac in me who wanted to whip up some charcoal in the back garden, but I don’t think the neighbours would appreciate a burgeoning industrial site visible from their windows. Still might try out a few things, though!

This is a solid gift book for the tech or science-minded who love science-fiction which may spark a few adventures.


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