The premise of Thing Explainer began with a classic XKCD strip, Up Goer Five, which presented a detailed cutaway technical schematic of the Saturn Five rocket labelled exclusively in the thousand (ten-hundred) most common words in the English language. Buoyed by the success of the strip (and delighted by the intellectual challenge of describing complex ideas in simple words) (and indulgent of the sheer pleasure of drawing cutaway diagrams of technical objects), Munroe has created an entire book of Up-Goer Five-style diagrams.
Most of these diagrams are technical, ranging from the mundane (washer/dryers AKA "Boxes that Make Clothes Smell Better") to the fantastic ("Up-Goer Five") with loads of biology (cells AKA "Tiny Bags of Water") thrown in for good measure. As a bonus, Munroe also gives the US Constitution ("The US's Laws of the Land") the same treatment, and sets himself the challenge of explaining a complex, foundational, deeply important political document in a strictly controlled vocabulary.
I love every single thing about this book. As you've gathered, I can stare at exploded diagrams of technology forever. The schematic is such a deceptive, seductive way of presenting the inscrutable and chaotic innards of our daily world. Then there's the language-game Munroe is playing with himself and us. Part of the delight of this is enjoying the linguistic backflips he has to go through to express complex technical ideas in the simplest words possible, but where it really shines is in just how clear he is when he nails it, turning the abstract and abstruse into something you can share with a child.
Houghton Mifflin were kind enough to exclusively share with us my three favorite diagrams from the book: Cellphones, Elevators and the US Constitution. You'll find them below.
Munroe is touring Thing Explainer, you'll find the schedule here.
Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words [Randall Munroe/Houghton Mifflin]
Excerpted from Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words © 2015 by Randall Munroe. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.