The B&N Podcast: Randall Munroe Has the (Wrong) Answer for Everything


Every author has a story beyond the one that they put down on paper. The Barnes & Noble Podcast goes between the lines with today’s most interesting writers, exploring what inspires them, what confounds them, and what they were thinking when they wrote the books we’re talking about.

Our guest on this episode is author and cartoonist Randall Munroe, author of the new book How To: Absurd Advice for Common Real-World Problems. Munroe became an internet legend via his webcomic XKCD, a daily feature published since 2005 in which a cast of stick figures (case in point: his “author photo” above) take on the conundrums of 21st-century living via a mixture of scientific analysis, wry humor, and absolutely unpredictable creativity.  Munroe’s scientific background is no joke — he’s a former NASA roboticist — and he became a bestselling author in 2014 with his book What If?, which took seriously readers’ wild questions like “could you make a jetpack out of machine guns.” In How To, Munroe applies science to the everyday — but uses Rube Goldberg concepts to find the most unnecessarily complicated, difficult, and expensive way to do everything from charging your phone to making friends. But as he explains to B&N’s Bill Tipper, sometimes it’s the long way around that gets you where you need to go.

By the way, in case you’re wondering if Randall Munroe really looks like his XKCD-style self-portrait, we snapped a picture of him in the studio during the interview, so you can judge for yourself!

For any task you might want to do, there’s a right way, a wrong way, and a way so monumentally bad that no one would ever try it. How To is a guide to the third kind of approach. It’s full of highly impractical advice for everything from landing a plane to digging a hole.

Bestselling author and cartoonist Randall Munroe explains how to predict the weather by analyzing the pixels of your Facebook photos. He teaches you how to tell if you’re a baby boomer or a 90’s kid by measuring the radioactivity of your teeth. He offers tips for taking a selfie with a telescope, crossing a river by boiling it, and getting to your appointments on time by destroying the Moon. And if you want to get rid of the book once you’re done with it, he walks you through your options for proper disposal, including dissolving it in the ocean, converting it to a vapor, using tectonic plates to subduct it into the Earth’s mantle, or launching it into the Sun.

By exploring the most complicated ways to do simple tasks, Munroe doesn’t just make things difficult for himself and his readers. As he did so brilliantly in What If?, Munroe invites us to explore the most absurd reaches of the possible. Full of clever infographics and amusing illustrations, How To is a delightfully mind-bending way to better understand the science and technology underlying the things we do every day.

The Barnes & Noble Exclusive Edition includes two bonus comics.

The world’s most entertaining and useless self-help guide, from the brilliant mind behind the wildly popular webcomic xkcd and the #1 New York Times bestsellers What If? and Thing Explainer

See more books by Randall Munroe.

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