cover image How to Invent Everything: A Survival Guide for the Stranded Time Traveler

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

Ryan North. Riverhead, $27 (464p) ISBN 978-0-7352-2014-0

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. (Sept.)