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

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What would you do if a time machine hurled you thousands of years into the past. . . and then broke? How would you survive? Could you improve on humanity's original timeline? And how hard would it be to domesticate a giant wombat? With this book as your guide, you'll survive--and thrive--in any period in Earth's history. Bestselling author and time-travel enthusiast Ryan N What would you do if a time machine hurled you thousands of years into the past. . . and then broke? How would you survive? Could you improve on humanity's original timeline? And how hard would it be to domesticate a giant wombat? With this book as your guide, you'll survive--and thrive--in any period in Earth's history. Bestselling author and time-travel enthusiast Ryan North shows you how to invent all the modern conveniences we take for granted--from first principles. This illustrated manual contains all the science, engineering, art, philosophy, facts, and figures required for even the most clueless time traveler to build a civilization from the ground up. Deeply researched, irreverent, and significantly more fun than being eaten by a saber-toothed tiger, How to Invent Everything will make you smarter, more competent, and completely prepared to become the most important and influential person ever.


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What would you do if a time machine hurled you thousands of years into the past. . . and then broke? How would you survive? Could you improve on humanity's original timeline? And how hard would it be to domesticate a giant wombat? With this book as your guide, you'll survive--and thrive--in any period in Earth's history. Bestselling author and time-travel enthusiast Ryan N What would you do if a time machine hurled you thousands of years into the past. . . and then broke? How would you survive? Could you improve on humanity's original timeline? And how hard would it be to domesticate a giant wombat? With this book as your guide, you'll survive--and thrive--in any period in Earth's history. Bestselling author and time-travel enthusiast Ryan North shows you how to invent all the modern conveniences we take for granted--from first principles. This illustrated manual contains all the science, engineering, art, philosophy, facts, and figures required for even the most clueless time traveler to build a civilization from the ground up. Deeply researched, irreverent, and significantly more fun than being eaten by a saber-toothed tiger, How to Invent Everything will make you smarter, more competent, and completely prepared to become the most important and influential person ever.

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

  1. 4 out of 5

    Ryan North

    I wrote it! But I think it's the best thing I've ever written, so great work, past me. In all seriousness though, it was a lot of fun to research and write, and if reading it is anything close to as entertaining and educational as writing it was, I think you'll have a great time with it!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jen

    Fellow preppers, bring it in for a huddle. I’ve got a manual you’ll want stuff in your bunker. (That was bizarrely suggestive.) Have you ever, while deathly ill from eating too many magic markers, painted an impromptu canvas with the prism of your explosive vomit, and saw the Mandelbrot set starring back at you? Then, upon further examination of its infinite self similarities, experienced a great longing to recapitulate the important discoveries of mankind? First, get yourself to a goddamn hospi Fellow preppers, bring it in for a huddle. I’ve got a manual you’ll want stuff in your bunker. (That was bizarrely suggestive.) Have you ever, while deathly ill from eating too many magic markers, painted an impromptu canvas with the prism of your explosive vomit, and saw the Mandelbrot set starring back at you? Then, upon further examination of its infinite self similarities, experienced a great longing to recapitulate the important discoveries of mankind? First, get yourself to a goddamn hospital, second, ask someone to pick this up for you. This book is written as a guide to help reconstruct civilization in the event of a time traveling mishap which leaves you stranded in a more primitive epoch. But I’m sure it will serve as a terrific guide for the more probable emergencies which leer at us from space, nuclear silos, the atmosphere, political/religious pulpits, and pissed off hyper-intelligent ungulates. In any of those instances, this book will likely be overkill, because we’ll at least have the ghostly relics of our first attempt to use as scaffolding for the next. Although, the hulking wreckage probably won’t be as useful as all the liquified-life that empowered our species to inflict a mortal wound upon itself. Also, irradiated earth isn’t great for pushing up caloric surpluses, and if you can’t venture onto the surface without insult to your physical integrity in the form of malicious particles and giant mutant ground sloths, it’s unlikely that construction will proceed apace. And if.. Well, I’m sorry I even brought it up! Maybe I’ll try my hand at some Mark Watney fan fiction, where he arrives back on earth only to find smoking, iridium enriched craters, sparklingly with silicates and the promise of difficult potatoes. He’ll need food, and he’ll need ammo for his spud-launcher if he’s going to survive the reemergence of charismatic megafauna. It’s written with great humor, and packed to the gills with interesting bits of technological progress, from hunter-gathering all the way to our current era of Little Debbie supremacy. If that’s not enough to motivate a purchase, well - humanity has a tough row to hoe, as my daddy likes to say. Bug-out with this book!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    3.5 stars -- I docked points for the entire bread/beer section, which referred to yeast as animals (????) -- they are fungi! (This is not a one-off either; there is an entire joke about this??) Except for that one glaring error, I really enjoyed this book, its tone, and its humor. The premise was so clever that I knew I wanted to make acquiring this book a priority at SDCC, and I'm fortunate to have gotten a signed copy! The premise: you have a time machine, but it broke. Now you are stranded so 3.5 stars -- I docked points for the entire bread/beer section, which referred to yeast as animals (????) -- they are fungi! (This is not a one-off either; there is an entire joke about this??) Except for that one glaring error, I really enjoyed this book, its tone, and its humor. The premise was so clever that I knew I wanted to make acquiring this book a priority at SDCC, and I'm fortunate to have gotten a signed copy! The premise: you have a time machine, but it broke. Now you are stranded sometime in the distant past (flowchart provided to help you/the stranded time traveller figure out when exactly you are). How are you to survive and thrive in comfort? Well, Ryan North (the one from the AU where time travel has been invented and you have been stranded, not the Ryan North who found the manual and published the book you have in front of real you) has an instruction manual on how to invent everything you need, from written and spoken language to medicine to electricity to radio to just about anything you could want. Some favorite moments: in an entry on horseshoes: before horseshoes were invented: "Humans hadn't helped any other animals wear shoes, which honestly seems like one of our most adorable achievements" in an entry in the chemistry section about chlorine gas: "at high temperatures, [chlorine gas] also reacts with iron to produce chlorine-iron fires, which are about as safe as they sound (they are extremely not safe)." in a section on human anatomy (hey, knowing about the body puts you ahead of 10,000s of years of human history, and can get your new civilization started out on the right... foot!): "Skeleton: there is a spooky wet skeleton hiding inside us all, a truly terrifying thought" -- agree, Ryan North, agree. Skeletons are almost as creepy as veins, which are also terrifying and inside you. In the agriculture section (specifically the potato subsection): "Boil them, mash them, stick them in a stew, even cook them in oil to make delicious fries and potato chips." -- I see what you did there -- someone's a LOTR fan (well, two people -- in this case, Ryan North and also me). Also, I heartily approve of the author's use of the term "horsies" to describe the grouping of horses and protohorses.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Clare Hutchinson

    This has a really fun premise - a guidebook on reinventing elements of modern civilization for a stranded time-traveller that does an entertaining job of explaining the basics of technology and historical progression. I learned a lot! I played along with a suspension of disbelief at first but then found I got easily annoyed at missing/skipping steps or instructions (how am I collecting all these gases? with beakers?), or thinking that such a thing wouldn't be possible without first inventing bas This has a really fun premise - a guidebook on reinventing elements of modern civilization for a stranded time-traveller that does an entertaining job of explaining the basics of technology and historical progression. I learned a lot! I played along with a suspension of disbelief at first but then found I got easily annoyed at missing/skipping steps or instructions (how am I collecting all these gases? with beakers?), or thinking that such a thing wouldn't be possible without first inventing basic things like knives, or that there were entire missing sections that would be helpful in this case (how to build a decent shelter). And I hoped for a bit more literary content - more thoughtful musing on the progression of knowledge, how secrecy and racism prevented cultures from learning from each other, how interpersonal difficulties and society might prevent the reader from achieving the aims of the book, any note on things the reader should try to avoid inventing, invention of societal structures, etc. There were little asides on these but with such an ambitious text I hoped for a bit more, even at the end. Tell me how to invent not getting burned at the stake for being an obvious witch making penicillin and airplanes in 300 AD, Ryan!!! However, I appreciated the wide scope of knowledge, I spent a LOT of time examining things and imagining how I might (or if I would be able to) invent them, and I think I could probably make a kiln.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Peter Tillman

    This is an outline of the history of technology, presented as a manual for stranded time-travelers who had rented the FC-3000 time machine. It starts cute: “REPAIR GUIDE: There are no user-serviceable parts inside the FC-3000.” Oops. I think Arthur C. Clarke once remarked that the best evidence against the existence of time travel, was the remarkable absence of time travelers. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_tr... Still, it’s a clever handle for the book, but kind of a one-trick pony that quick This is an outline of the history of technology, presented as a manual for stranded time-travelers who had rented the FC-3000 time machine. It starts cute: “REPAIR GUIDE: There are no user-serviceable parts inside the FC-3000.” Oops. I think Arthur C. Clarke once remarked that the best evidence against the existence of time travel, was the remarkable absence of time travelers. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_tr... Still, it’s a clever handle for the book, but kind of a one-trick pony that quickly got old for me. The usual problem of writing humor. But who knows? You might like it. The author is a cartoonist: http://www.ryannorth.ca/ The history of technology part seems accurate, although the “future” periodic table in the appendix just irritated me, as a former chemist. About there, I started skimming. Most of the factual stuff was old-hat for me. I don’t think I’m really the intended audience, and my 2-star rating is definitely an outlier. Might be closer to 1.5 stars, really. Not a keeper! I won a copy of the book from the publisher through a Goodreads giveaway. Thanks!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Diane Hernandez

    How to Invent Everything is “a complete cheat sheet to civilization”. You’re welcome. Beginning with hilarious FAQs about your new state-of-the-art FC3000 rental market time machine, the book then explains how to invent everything and restart civilization in case the machine breaks down in the past. It starts at a basic level of civilization, language, and continues all the way through making computers to do all the work. Along the way it touches on math, science, agriculture, zoology, nutrition, How to Invent Everything is “a complete cheat sheet to civilization”. You’re welcome. Beginning with hilarious FAQs about your new state-of-the-art FC3000 rental market time machine, the book then explains how to invent everything and restart civilization in case the machine breaks down in the past. It starts at a basic level of civilization, language, and continues all the way through making computers to do all the work. Along the way it touches on math, science, agriculture, zoology, nutrition, sexuality, philosophy, art, music and basic medicine. When I initially picked How to Invent Everything on Edelweiss+, I thought it was non-fiction. Imagine my surprise and delight when I quickly realized it was fictional in the vein of my favorite book, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Except it starts in the future and goes backwards to present day. Sorta. Alas, it is both fiction and non-fiction at the same time. Good luck, time travelers, sorting it out. This is a very interesting book. It includes actual recipes for creating items. However, there is also a disclaimer in the front stating no one is responsible if something happens to you while using the recipes so hmmm. I liked How to Invent Everything for its humor and some of the information is interesting to know. It may be useful in case of a zombie (or other type of) apocalypse. However, if you are a doom’s day prepper, buy this book in paper format since who knows how long those solar chargers in your bug-out kit will be able to charge your kindle. 4 stars! Thanks to Riverhead Books and Edelweiss+ for an advance copy.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Charles J

    I enjoyed this book, a somewhat smug but informative trip through the technologies that create and enhance civilization. It even has a clever frame—what would you do if you were stuck in the past due to a time machine failure? (You must end up in a past where there were other humans but no civilization; a helpful flow chart makes clear that ending up in other time periods will not lead to a lengthy life for you.) Everything from food production to tanning to smelting to computers is covered, tho I enjoyed this book, a somewhat smug but informative trip through the technologies that create and enhance civilization. It even has a clever frame—what would you do if you were stuck in the past due to a time machine failure? (You must end up in a past where there were other humans but no civilization; a helpful flow chart makes clear that ending up in other time periods will not lead to a lengthy life for you.) Everything from food production to tanning to smelting to computers is covered, though each briefly; the writing is brisk and often funny (even if the same jokes are used too often and some sections are a bit padded out). And since I am a trivia master, and actually knew already at least 95% of the things covered in this book, I can attest that the accuracy level is very high. But the book jars the reader by the constant intrusion of social justice warrior cant. We are didactically instructed, despite that survival obviously requires a firm grasp of reality, that “Of course, not all women have vaginas, and not all people with vaginas are women.” The stupid abbreviations “CE” and “BCE” are substituted for AD and BC; given that every page has multiple dates, this leads to reader headache, having to focus to see which is which in a given case. No discussion at all is offered about weapons, even the most basic, although those are, short of hunting and gathering, the most critical elements to human survival in any pre-modern period, both for food acquisition and protection. We are constantly hectored that we must avoid creating global warming. The confusing plural “they” is always used as the generic pronoun. Lies are told to us that inventions like eyeglasses were made elsewhere than Europe. And so on, and on, and on. If the author, Ryan North, had simply avoided the cant, the book would have been far better than it is. As it stands, so much of the book is irritating to the reader it substantially lessens his enjoyment in reading. Too bad.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Leo Walsh

    I picked this book off of NPR's best books of 2018 list and because I like reading science. The book makes it clear that science and technology matter. We humans as a species have advanced leaps and bounds beyond our natural state. So much of what we take for granted -- from spinning thread and creating looms to weave our cloth, to the agriculture which produces the food we eat, to even writing, reading and paper -- is based on decades of human experience, trial and error. Okay. Fair enough. I l I picked this book off of NPR's best books of 2018 list and because I like reading science. The book makes it clear that science and technology matter. We humans as a species have advanced leaps and bounds beyond our natural state. So much of what we take for granted -- from spinning thread and creating looms to weave our cloth, to the agriculture which produces the food we eat, to even writing, reading and paper -- is based on decades of human experience, trial and error. Okay. Fair enough. I love reading about this sort of thing. And North does a fair job of covering the major innovations that have gone into society. What's more, he's done a lot of clever research and following his basic diagrams and descriptions, you could produce a lot of important innovations from scratch... if you were to find yourself in a zombie apocalypse. Unlikely, but no doubt a bright young person would read this and try, for instance, making their own plowshare, or water turbine, etc. I also like the historical perspective. Since the text makes it very clear that despite the "Western chauvinism" you here from semi-ignorant alt-right types these days, North makes it clear that through the 1700s, while Europeans were the laggards. We were dirty, poor and ill-read while places like China, India and North Africa had it all over on us. Those people created major innovations, like plows, saddles, water wheels, paper manufacturing and the like centuries before Europeans caught up. But the thing is, North focuses on the HUMAN race. And we, together, have achieved much to be proud of. So why only three stars? Because the book uses a cloyingly cutesy literary device to draw readers in: this information is presented as if it's from a manual written for a stranded time traveler. And through the book. North adds "humorous" attempts that fell flat for this reader. From the NPR review, I expected humor on about the same level as THE HITCHHIKER"S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY, albeit in service of fact-based material. Instead, I got cloying sophomoric attempts at humor that brings to mind annoying shows about science that I don't like, the ADAM RUINS EVERYTHING. Ah well, Perhaps North was going for a younger, middle school audience? And maybe I'm just the wrong audience? Who knows. But I do know if I taught 8th or 9th-grade history or social studies, I'd bring this book in as secondary reading to give students an appreciation for how important science really is. But for literate adults, I find it ho-hum. Great information with a silly presentation that tries over-hard to be humorous. Three-stars.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Brian Clegg

    Occasionally you read a book and think 'I wish I'd thought of that.' This was my immediate reaction to Ryan North's How to Invent Everything. The central conceit manages to be both funny and inspiring as a framework for writing an 'everything you ever wanted to know about everything (and particularly science)' book. What How to Invent Everything claims to be is a manual for users of a time machine (from some point in the future). Specifically it's a manual for dealing with the situation of the ti Occasionally you read a book and think 'I wish I'd thought of that.' This was my immediate reaction to Ryan North's How to Invent Everything. The central conceit manages to be both funny and inspiring as a framework for writing an 'everything you ever wanted to know about everything (and particularly science)' book. What How to Invent Everything claims to be is a manual for users of a time machine (from some point in the future). Specifically it's a manual for dealing with the situation of the time machine going wrong and stranding the user in the past. At first it appears that it's going to tell you how to fix the broken time machine - but then admits this is impossible. Since you're stuck in the past, you might as well make the best of your surroundings, so the aim of the rest of the book is to give you the knowledge you need to build your own civilisation from scratch. We start with a fun flow chart for working out just how far back in time you are stuck (and what you will be faced with as challenges). From then on, there's a mix of practical information and background of theory that might help you rebuild some kind of civilised world. So we get science, technology, the arts, medicine - inevitably cherry picking but sometimes in a surprising amount of detail when focussed on a small part of what's needed. In some ways, what we have here is a modern version of those popular books from a good few years ago that told you how to survive crocodile attacks and the like, but on steroids. Not only is this book far fatter (we're talking over 450 pages) it takes the premise of providing mostly accurate but practically useless how-to information to the wonderful extreme. Since the reader isn't actually stranded in the past, it's not going to be a truly practical guide, but it does put across a surprising amount of information in an approachable manner. It's like having the old Pear's Cylopedia crossed with a science fiction comedy. The were only two things that slightly reduced the enjoyment. I found North's style of humour too knowing - it just got wearing after a while, rather than continuing to be entertaining as someone like Douglas Adams would have managed. So, for example, page after page of this kind of thing can get a bit heavy: 'Cool hats are easy to imagine [without language], but the meaning of the sentence "Three weeks from tomorrow, have your oldest stepsister meet me on the southeast corner two block east from the first house we egged last Halloween" is extremely difficult to nail down without having concrete words for the concepts of time, place, numbers, relationships and spooky holidays.' My other slight moan is that the big sections on growing food and 'common human complaints that can be solved by technology' got a little samey and were distinctly over-long. Some aspects of establishing the needs of basic civilisation are... rather dull. But there was still much to delight in as the book skips its merry way from units of measurement to how to invent music (with a few classical pieces included to claim that you composed, because who's going to know you haven't). The reality, then, doesn't quite live up to the brilliance of the idea. I'm not sure anything could. But it still remains a great way to link together a portmanteau of any random bits of knowledge that North felt it would be enjoyable to impart. It would make a great gift book and will give a lot of pleasure. You may even learn something handy, should you ever be stuck in the remote past.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Lindsay

    It's what it says on the cover: a guide for reinventing civilization from pretty much nothing, from moving from hunter-gatherer to farming, language and medicine, to rudimentary medicine and technology. All from the point of view of a time traveler stranded in the past with a manual provided by the manufacturers of the time machine that stranded them there. While some of the detail is mind-numbing (although leavened by humor throughout), the exercise overall makes you think about the many underly It's what it says on the cover: a guide for reinventing civilization from pretty much nothing, from moving from hunter-gatherer to farming, language and medicine, to rudimentary medicine and technology. All from the point of view of a time traveler stranded in the past with a manual provided by the manufacturers of the time machine that stranded them there. While some of the detail is mind-numbing (although leavened by humor throughout), the exercise overall makes you think about the many underlying basic technologies that we all take for granted and really makes you appreciate just how much work it would require to recreate them all.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Kusaimamekirai

    Ok, I’m just going to come out and say this is the coolest book ever invented. Emphasis on the “invention” part because that’s what Ryan North’s “How to Invent Everything” is all about. Ever wonder how to make your own chemicals? (hint:in most cases don’t). Your own penicillin? (not sure of the legality of selling your homemade penicillin or the wisdom of using it after the consequences of a few nights on the town but hey…there it is.). Are you in the market for a backyard smelter to produce y Ok, I’m just going to come out and say this is the coolest book ever invented. Emphasis on the “invention” part because that’s what Ryan North’s “How to Invent Everything” is all about. Ever wonder how to make your own chemicals? (hint:in most cases don’t). Your own penicillin? (not sure of the legality of selling your homemade penicillin or the wisdom of using it after the consequences of a few nights on the town but hey…there it is.). Are you in the market for a backyard smelter to produce your own pig iron to make swords and other cool stuff? (and let’s face it, why wouldn’t you be?). All this and so much more is in what might be the most useful and simultaneously useless survival guide ever. But man….it is a lot of fun. Perhaps my favorite chapter is the chapter on logic and philosophy. Or as he titles it: “ MAJOR SCHOOLS OF PHILOSOPHY SUMMED UP IN A FEW QUIPPY SENTENCES ABOUT HIGH-FIVES” Which is what it is. A list of philosophic principles wrapped around high fives. There are too many to list all of them but here are some particularly hilarious ones: Monotheism: God gave me a high-five. Monolatrism: There are definitely a bunch of gods, but I worship only the one who gave me a high-five. Agnosticism: Maybe a god gave me a high-five, maybe I gave it to myself. Who is to say? Autotheism: I gave myself a high-five. Also, I’m a god. Absolutism: Certain actions are intrinsically right or wrong. For example, stealing, even to feed a starving puppy, ”might always be wrong, while high-fives, even if you keep accidentally slapping the person in the face real bad, might always be the correct course of action. Dualism: There are good and bad forces in this world: for every high-five, there is a corresponding anti-high-five that is both down low and, sadly, too slow. Solipsism: I gave myself a high-five. Unfortunately, I only imagined it, since nothing outside my own mind really exists. Existentialism: Nothing, not even high-fives, has any meaning, so it’s up to the individual to give them whatever meaning they can by both handing out and receiving high-fives as authentically as possible. Positivism: If you want me to believe in high-fives I’m going to need to see some scientific evidence. Secular humanism: There are no gods to high-five us, but we can still be kind . . . and we can still high-five each other. Epicureanism: Pleasure’s awesome, but the greatest pleasures are the absence of pain and fear, so I’m going to high only a sensible number of fives because I don’t want to end up with a hurt hand. Absurdism: The sheer size, scope, and potential of things to understand about even one single high-five makes ever discovering the true meaning of high-fives impossible, and the only rational responses are suicide or blindly hoping there’s a god who could one day completely understand high-fives, or, failing either of those, accepting the absurdity of high-fives and, despite it all, still cheerily handing them out. North makes us think about all the things we take for granted in our daily life and shows us how they were made, as well as when they were made. Many of these inventions seem incredibly obvious and yet took thousands of years before anyone thought about them (modern medicine is in fact just a little over a century old. 4 “humors” control the body? “Miasmas of smells are what make us sick? Come on man….) . What makes this book even more enjoyable is he wraps each invention around the narrative of time travel. That’s right, you got stranded all the way back at the beginning of time, so what are you going to do? Start a new civilization of course. For which you’ll need agriculture, tools, music, mathematics, medicine, and a host of other tools. The best part being since you’re giving all this stuff to your new civilization, you can also take credit for all of it. Sweet! (North’s recommendation to “invent” Salt n’ Papa’s song “Shoop” as your first order of musical business however is inadvisable). Basically it’s a cool guide to doing cool stuff that you don’t need to and probably shouldn’t make. (Such as caustic chemicals for example which as North points out: “Caustics have even been used to decompose organic tissues into a slurry, in an attempt to dispose of human bodies! If things are going well, you should not need to get rid of any human bodies.”). But if you do find yourself rebuilding civilization somewhere (hopefully without the need to dispose of bodies because, what kind of civilization are you running there anyway??) this book is the first thing you’ll need to build a shining city on a hill. Or at least a hut from bamboo, mud and leaves.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Meg C

    Would you like to: • Domesticate wolves in as little as 18 years? • Play the Tetris theme on instruments you made yourself? • Create a calorie surplus, therefore creating the opportunity of having a person or persons whose sole job is to put shoes on horses? Well, have I got the book for you! If I still haven't sold you, let me also mention: • Upon its release, it was #1 on the non-fiction and science fiction bestseller lists. • It has footnotes galore (and you know you love a good footnote). • It has t Would you like to: • Domesticate wolves in as little as 18 years? • Play the Tetris theme on instruments you made yourself? • Create a calorie surplus, therefore creating the opportunity of having a person or persons whose sole job is to put shoes on horses? Well, have I got the book for you! If I still haven't sold you, let me also mention: • Upon its release, it was #1 on the non-fiction and science fiction bestseller lists. • It has footnotes galore (and you know you love a good footnote). • It has trig tables. • It is 436 pages, but at the end I was sad there wasn't more to read. • Reading how long it took civilization to develop some technologies will really make you feel better about your own failures. • It's awesome.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Margaret Sankey

    This is a fun book which tracks closely with how I used to teach World History--let's domesticate some animals! Here's what you can do once you've got printing as a reliable technology! North lays out the prerequisites for humanity's most useful leaps and explains how to achieve them under primitive circumstances (we all *know* about penicillin, but how may people can isolate and propagate it?). All of this is told in an accessible, smart ass tone, making it both appealing to casual readers and This is a fun book which tracks closely with how I used to teach World History--let's domesticate some animals! Here's what you can do once you've got printing as a reliable technology! North lays out the prerequisites for humanity's most useful leaps and explains how to achieve them under primitive circumstances (we all *know* about penicillin, but how may people can isolate and propagate it?). All of this is told in an accessible, smart ass tone, making it both appealing to casual readers and useful to anyone doing world building or underlining a Tech and Civ lesson. (Also, I never knew that pink grapefruit were a product of the Atoms for Peace program. Mutants.)

  14. 5 out of 5

    Trike

    This is a humorous way to sneakily introduce someone to the basics of science, history, prehistory, ecology, farming, technology, etc., via the framing device of being a how-to explainer for time-lost travelers. It is vastly entertaining, and I think you should buy it for any smart kids you know. (I just sent a copy to my 13-year-old cousin. I know he’s going to eat it up.) Here’s a sample: “Science gives you an explanation, but you can never say with absolute certainty that it’s the correct one. This is a humorous way to sneakily introduce someone to the basics of science, history, prehistory, ecology, farming, technology, etc., via the framing device of being a how-to explainer for time-lost travelers. It is vastly entertaining, and I think you should buy it for any smart kids you know. (I just sent a copy to my 13-year-old cousin. I know he’s going to eat it up.) Here’s a sample: “Science gives you an explanation, but you can never say with absolute certainty that it’s the correct one. That’s why scientists talk about the theory of gravity (even though gravity clearly exists and can cause you to fall down the stairs), theories of climate change (even though it’s obvious our environment is not the same one our parents enjoyed, or that you’re enjoying right now), or the theory of time travel (even though it’s a fact that you’re clearly trapped in the past for reasons that can not have legal liability assigned).” 😆 Edit to add: my cousin texted me to say his son received it at 1 pm yesterday and he’s had his nose buried in it ever since. So there’s another endorsement.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jakub Slámka

    Had a lot of fun with this book. Sort of a “Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy” meets “Sapiens” :)

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kam Yung Soh

    A fun book that uses the premise of a time traveller stranded in the past and having the make the best of things by starting off humanity on the path of civilisation. The means of doing this is by bypassing the trial and errors that humanity went through and going straight to the solutions needed to set up a working modern civilisation. The book starts off with tips of the stranded time traveller to find out where and when he might be. Assuming the traveller is lucky and ends up in a certain time A fun book that uses the premise of a time traveller stranded in the past and having the make the best of things by starting off humanity on the path of civilisation. The means of doing this is by bypassing the trial and errors that humanity went through and going straight to the solutions needed to set up a working modern civilisation. The book starts off with tips of the stranded time traveller to find out where and when he might be. Assuming the traveller is lucky and ends up in a certain time period where modern man was around but civilisation hasn't been established yet, the book goes on with the basis of setting up a civilisation, namely getting a spoken and written language, a 'rational' system of numbers and establishing the scientific method. Farming is then introduced so that people's basis calorie needs are satisfied and can devote energy to other matters. Units of measurements (length, weights, etc.) are added, followed by more details on how to farm more productively (selective breeding and crop rotation). A list of plants and animals that are useful are also given. Once people can be properly fed, industry is then added. Basic farming technology is added (the plough and harness), followed by ways to preserve food. Mining machinery is added, leading to more machines and the beginnings of the industrial age all the way to electrical machines. Other basic items of civilisation are introduced like clocks, thermometers, sewing, birth control, housing materials (cement and concrete), paper and transport (bicycles, boats, airplanes) are added. The basics of medicine and first aid are added and the book ends of 'luxuries' like music and the basics of computers. With that, the stranded time traveller might be able to 'kick-start' humanity on the path of civilisation and end up where he or she started, with the abilities to build a time machine to go back in time.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Maddie

    This is a fun book about the science and technology that makes civilization possible, written as a manual for stranded time-travellers. It reminded me of The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World from Scratch in subject matter, but it was written in such an entertaining style that I enjoyed reading them both. Ryan North particularly enjoyed highlighting discoveries that were behind their time, where humans probably could have saved themselves a lot of hassle had someone thought to say, invent a be This is a fun book about the science and technology that makes civilization possible, written as a manual for stranded time-travellers. It reminded me of The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Our World from Scratch in subject matter, but it was written in such an entertaining style that I enjoyed reading them both. Ryan North particularly enjoyed highlighting discoveries that were behind their time, where humans probably could have saved themselves a lot of hassle had someone thought to say, invent a better version of a plow or germ theory a few thousand years earlier. Based on some of the reviews, I think some people were looking for a comprehensive survival manual, and this probably is not the perfect book for them. Some of the diagrams and instructions were a bit glossed over and a lot of pages were dedicated to humor, not science. This book was clearly written to be entertaining and informative, and I think it hit the mark perfectly.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Pratik Batavia

    Premise of the book is simple. You, a time traveler, travels back in time but unfortunately your time machine breaks down in the journey. Now you don't know where you are and 'when' you are. Your last hope is this book which promises to empower you to not only survive but also thrive in this hopeless situation. Solution? Invent an entire civilization from ground up and all the technologies along with it. As a Civilization and Age of empire fan, I was naturally enticed and intrigued by its premis Premise of the book is simple. You, a time traveler, travels back in time but unfortunately your time machine breaks down in the journey. Now you don't know where you are and 'when' you are. Your last hope is this book which promises to empower you to not only survive but also thrive in this hopeless situation. Solution? Invent an entire civilization from ground up and all the technologies along with it. As a Civilization and Age of empire fan, I was naturally enticed and intrigued by its premise. Always wanted to learn which all different ages human civilizations went through; how and when did techonlogical advancement happen and oh boy! What a treat it was to read! Simply the best book I read in 2019. It teaches you how to conquer a simple fire to electricity, harness salt to nuclear energy, build simple t-shirt buttons to computers, from measuring temperatures to deriving longitudes and latitudes by simply looking at the sun. If you are interested in how everything you see around you was invented and how can everything be reinvented, this book is for you. If you want to learn that in "non boring, laughing all the way" way, this book is for you. Filled with fun facts-stories and witty (and sometimes downright stupid!) humorous quid bits, this book is sure to leave you wanting for more and at the very least ignites curiosity and interest towards our seemingly stale world.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Tanner

    If you've ever played Civ and thought, gosh, it would really be quite interesting enough if it was just the technology tree, this is the book for you. Pretty funny too, if a little more repetitive than when North gets to play with characters.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Zach

    Enjoyed this just as much the second time around.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Sean

    If, like I have, you've ever played the game called "what technologies could you recreate if you traveled back in time, and why would soap be at the top of the list, and what is soap, anyway?" you'll enjoy this book. The conceit is that you're reading an emergency civilization-building guide for stranded time travelers; the guide covers everything from farming to cooking, hygiene to medicine, math to physics, chemistry to applied engineering, as so forth. Surprisingly thorough and well-construct If, like I have, you've ever played the game called "what technologies could you recreate if you traveled back in time, and why would soap be at the top of the list, and what is soap, anyway?" you'll enjoy this book. The conceit is that you're reading an emergency civilization-building guide for stranded time travelers; the guide covers everything from farming to cooking, hygiene to medicine, math to physics, chemistry to applied engineering, as so forth. Surprisingly thorough and well-constructed for a humorous, tongue-in-cheek guide. I saw some high-power lines the other day, and I could imagine how they linked up with the local transformers to provide electricity to the neighborhood. Before this book, that would've been a mystery. Very cool. * A few silly shots fired in the name of our glorious culture wars, but don't let that put you off. Or maybe you'll like 'em, I don't know. Either way. * Also, this guy seems to think that hamburgers call for egg, which makes me inexplicably angry. Egg goes in meatloaf, dude, but not hamburgers. If you're putting egg in hamburgers, you're doing it wrong. You're eating meatloaf sandwiches. * As a long-time baker, I've often thought about this when I put a loaf in the oven: "This works because the yeast you've selected for are bred to feed on the sugars in your flour and water, and if there's oxygen around, they'll produce carbon dioxide as waste. This carbon dioxide is trapped by the gluten in your flour, where it causes your bread to rise. When you cook your dough, the yeast will happily keep gorging themselves in the food utopia you've given them, right up to the point where things become so hot that they all die as their entire colony is cooked to death. Congratulations! You have used the labor of microscope beasties to produce a more pleasant bread, then killed them the instant they were no longer useful. Millions of their corpses are baked into every slice of bread you eat." * In the discussion of batteries, no mention of the Baghdad battery. Given how thorough the book is, I found this omission surprising.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Ric

    When reading this, I couldn’t help but think of What If? by Randall Munroe, because it’s a similar kind of book except it’s written in a very different way and it’s way more practical. Instead of answering hypothetical questions, it was a guidebook for someone who wants to restart society when stuck in the past. It was full of quips and one-liners that made me laugh out loud. My favorite running gag was that any quote mentioned in the book was credited to “you” (originally ‘the name of the perso When reading this, I couldn’t help but think of What If? by Randall Munroe, because it’s a similar kind of book except it’s written in a very different way and it’s way more practical. Instead of answering hypothetical questions, it was a guidebook for someone who wants to restart society when stuck in the past. It was full of quips and one-liners that made me laugh out loud. My favorite running gag was that any quote mentioned in the book was credited to “you” (originally ‘the name of the person who actually said it’) because technically if you go back in time and say a quote that you heard but it hasn’t been said yet, you originally said it (it’s a paradox!). Admittedly, it was probably closer to 3.5 stars because I did enjoy it, but it could be really dry in parts. If there’s some apocalyptic event, I know one of the books I’ll be grabbing when I leave the house.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Bryan Alkire

    Quirky guide to basic human science and tech. The idea is an interesting format, though with the proliferation of time travel guides, the subgenre will quickly become a trope or cliché with its own conventions and such. The book is short and moves along well as everything is charts or short text. The writing is readable though becomes sophomoric at times. The info is good however and an interesting look at basic human tech. Might be useful for the post apocalypse author. The book was slightly di Quirky guide to basic human science and tech. The idea is an interesting format, though with the proliferation of time travel guides, the subgenre will quickly become a trope or cliché with its own conventions and such. The book is short and moves along well as everything is charts or short text. The writing is readable though becomes sophomoric at times. The info is good however and an interesting look at basic human tech. Might be useful for the post apocalypse author. The book was slightly disappointing…was expecting a bit more depth and a less choppy format. Still, I give this one a qualified 4. It’s a neat idea, informational and readable even if the writing tends towards the choppy and is irreverent throughout.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Bruce

    This is a delicious book that presents the origins of major/useful technologies and cultivated resources through the flimsy, completely extraneous, and delightfully amusing conceit of the reader's being stranded in time. Suppose you're a time-traveler on a one-way trip to the distant past. How will you figure out where and when you are? Having done so, how might you pick up on whatever's available to cultivate all the perqs and comforts of the contemporary civilization you've left behind? From a This is a delicious book that presents the origins of major/useful technologies and cultivated resources through the flimsy, completely extraneous, and delightfully amusing conceit of the reader's being stranded in time. Suppose you're a time-traveler on a one-way trip to the distant past. How will you figure out where and when you are? Having done so, how might you pick up on whatever's available to cultivate all the perqs and comforts of the contemporary civilization you've left behind? From agriculture to literacy (and something to write on!), from useful numbers (buy an '0'!) through computer logic, all the way to computers themselves (powered by electricity!), Ryan North is here to point you in the right direction. A representative passage from the section on bicycles (pages 259-264) should suffice to give you the best feel for the tone, structure, and content of this latest North opus:10.12.1: Bikes… WHAT THEY ARE A way for human bodies to move themselves around with three times more efficiency than walking. We'll say that again: humans invented a way to get around that's actually better than walking around on their own two legs. We've been dunking on humanity a lot in this book, mainly for taking a really long time to figure out some very simple stuff, but bicycles are a beautiful piece of technology no matter where and when you invent them…. Prerequisites wheels, metal (optional, for chains and gears), fabric (optional, for a drive belt), or a basket (optional, for a nice picnic) ...Besides their simplicity, affordability, civilization-altering utility, and virtuoso-like efficiency when paired with the human body, bikes are also just a heck of a lot of fun to ride. You can even put a little basket on the front and fill it with a bottle of wine (Section 7.13), some nice breads (Section 10.2.5), maybe a cozy blanket (Section 10.8.4), and even some tasty pickles (Section 10.2.4). Is it any coincidence that a guide to reinventing civilization also functions pretty well as a guide to having a really delightful picnic? Picnics are objectively one of the crowning achievements of humanity, and don't worry: by following our instructions, you'll get there eventually… … on the wheels of your bike. [ellipses in original]Pretty handy, right? The author even helpfully appends diagrams to his explanations when appropriate (as here) so that you may not merely understand the bicycle's utility, import, and elegance, but also the intrinsics of its functional design. Perhaps you are not satisfied with merely tootling down to the riverfront on your two-wheeler. Perhaps you aspire to flight? Well, you'll likely want some metalworking and machine tooling for that (and thus, kilns, forges, mines, and more), but never fear, even the bicycle can get you there! And if not a bicycle, a bit of basketweaving suspended below a fire-inflated cloth bag should suffice. That poses a fatal danger of fire, of course, but hey, as those knowledgeable of the Hindenburg disaster will tell you, it sure beats using hydrogen. Still and all, if you, like me, ever wondered why the Hindenburg wasn't instead filled with everybody's favorite party-balloon inflator and squeaky-voice generator helium (which in addition to being the second lightest element, as a noble gas also happens to be beneficially nonreactive), you'll discover at page 294 that:It is much, much harder to come by. The only natural, source of helium on Earth is produced through the (extremely slow) radioactive decay of heavy elements like uranium…. Helium is an almost entirely non-renewable resource…. There are a few ways to produce helium without relying on natural reserves: hydrogen fusion, proton bombardment of lithium in a particle accelerator, or through lunar mining missions, but these are all, it's fair to say, slightly more expensive alternatives.This last bit of wisdom is to be found in a footnote, and if you think footnotes are tedious digressions seldom worth your time, let me dissuade you. There's a delightful subplot to this book that involves the fictional manual editor's slave-driving boss "Chad" sprinkled throughout. Of course, we've got bigger things to worry about than bikes and helium balloons. What with climate change rewriting the world, you'd better get thee hence to reading this right now. After all, it may be only a matter of time until we find ourselves forced to cheerfully rebuild civilization from the bare earth.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Rick Lees

    This book was really good fun! It has a clever conceit and lighthearted voice, and also was just informative enough that it made me want to go out and try some of the 'inventions' :-)

  26. 4 out of 5

    Marco Maia Carneiro

    "How to Invent Everything..." is one of the funniest books that is useful at the same time, that I've ever read. It is put up as a manual, so there is no real order of reading it. I've found it nice to read it in the order of presenting, but the reader can start from any technology and go back to its base, escalating until the technology you need (Computers? First logic, then logic gates, then computers). It encompasses a massive amount of information without becoming boring. It's very funny at t "How to Invent Everything..." is one of the funniest books that is useful at the same time, that I've ever read. It is put up as a manual, so there is no real order of reading it. I've found it nice to read it in the order of presenting, but the reader can start from any technology and go back to its base, escalating until the technology you need (Computers? First logic, then logic gates, then computers). It encompasses a massive amount of information without becoming boring. It's very funny at times, and may be worth for its references alone. For all time travelers and time-bound travelers alike.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Bridget

    Absolutely charming and definitely lives up to its blurb as the only book you need to redevelop civilization from scratch after an unfortunate time machine accident ("for which no legal liability can be assigned"). I loved the premise and the book's commitment to it, with reminders throughout that principles, theories, quotes, songs, and maneuvers can now be attributed to YOU rather than whichever famous person has the credit in our current timeline. After you've read the introduction and underst Absolutely charming and definitely lives up to its blurb as the only book you need to redevelop civilization from scratch after an unfortunate time machine accident ("for which no legal liability can be assigned"). I loved the premise and the book's commitment to it, with reminders throughout that principles, theories, quotes, songs, and maneuvers can now be attributed to YOU rather than whichever famous person has the credit in our current timeline. After you've read the introduction and understand the premise, you could read this book in any order - it really is like a quick reference guide. I chose to read it straight through and while there were some parts I was less interested in, most of the rest was downright fascinating - animal husbandry, medicine, bread, beer, childbirth, philosophy. This book has literally everything! I also enjoyed the perspective this book gave on certain human achievements that developed quickly in certain societies and not others, or which took humans an inordinately long time to figure out, and why. A note about format: I originally got this on my Kindle but after the first chart I put it down and ordered the physical book format instead. This is the kind of book you want to flip through, and refer back to a previous page, and follow the charts as they're meant to be seen across multiple pages.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Lynn Schlatter

    This elegant distillation of the whole of human knowledge wrapped up in a silly premise has the potential to do three sneaky things: 1. Educate you. I would defy you to read any five pages and not learn something and laugh at something. Maybe ten pages if you're a whole lot smarter than me. 2. Convince your children to do well in school. You know the typical refrain "Why do I have to learn _______? When am I ever going to use it in real life?" Now you have the perfect answer: "Because you might g This elegant distillation of the whole of human knowledge wrapped up in a silly premise has the potential to do three sneaky things: 1. Educate you. I would defy you to read any five pages and not learn something and laugh at something. Maybe ten pages if you're a whole lot smarter than me. 2. Convince your children to do well in school. You know the typical refrain "Why do I have to learn _______? When am I ever going to use it in real life?" Now you have the perfect answer: "Because you might get stuck in the past due to a malfunctioning time machine and need to invent it!" 3. Force you to examine your values. Actually, the "how to invent philosophy and religion" chapter makes this less sneaky, but it's also the case that pretty much every technological advancement described in this book is portrayed as desirable. But is that really the case? If you had almost complete control over whether these things were invented, would you want all of them? Is the lifestyle we have in the 21st century a good thing to recreate?

  29. 4 out of 5

    Aaron

    “Baba yetu, yetu uliye Mbinguni yetu, yetu, amina Baba yetu, yetu, uliye Jina lako litukuzwe” This book is fun as hell, but also incredibly eerie: You are a time traveler stuck in the past, and you must try to survive and rebuild all of Civilization. That’s the conceit and it’s a good one- the basis of a really enjoyable Ask Reddit thread. It gave Ryan North the chance to learn more than he needs to know about obscure technological feats and it gives us the chance to learn about humanity’s technolog “Baba yetu, yetu uliye Mbinguni yetu, yetu, amina Baba yetu, yetu, uliye Jina lako litukuzwe” This book is fun as hell, but also incredibly eerie: You are a time traveler stuck in the past, and you must try to survive and rebuild all of Civilization. That’s the conceit and it’s a good one- the basis of a really enjoyable Ask Reddit thread. It gave Ryan North the chance to learn more than he needs to know about obscure technological feats and it gives us the chance to learn about humanity’s technological development over time up until a little bit after the Second Industrial Revolution. The problem? In a book full of footnotes and callouts, there are two callouts that North returns to again and again and again: this invention was discovered by accident, and to truly perfect it you need to enlist hundreds or thousands of people to do it. The first problem is not unheard of to anybody who reads a lot of technological history: humans spent hundreds of years bumbling around with technology. Thine Chinese had gunpowder, the printing press, and strong bureaucracies centuries before the Europeans knew the world wasn’t flat (I’m joking but also...). Technologies for math, language, and measurement- which don’t require any major supplemental technologies other than “Time to sit down and think hard” took millenniums of building up on each other. We stand on the shoulders of giants, but the giants the giants stand are so shrouded in rainy mist and opaque fog that we forget that a thousand generations live inside us now.* A bigger problem arises for the stranded time traveler that will almost certainly doom them to subsistence: there are not enough people. Every time North describes the essence and functioning of a new technology, he notes, “You should probably have somebody doing this full time.” He even brings up early on that you need a caloric surplus in order to allow people to specialize, but I think this hides the point: alone, you will die. If you’re blessed to live in a modern capitalistic country, everything around you was mostly made by the complex machinations of the incentives of millions of people. And I don’t mean, “a few thousand people sitting in board rooms designing things”, I mean a few dozen millions of people at minimum. The conceit of a time traveler building a civilization is an exploration of minimum autarky. What is the minimum number of people you need to produce the maximum number of things [you need to live an ok life]? The answer is startling high. Put a human being back before the birth of other humans, and you will have an experience very much like in The Martian: that human will die long before he would in an otherwise human-populated world. Alone, we are all Mark Watney: barely enlightened apes who die on Earth just a little bit slower than we might die on Mars. But together? The smallest most industrially advanced country is probably South Korea, and it has about 50 million people. I feel reasonable saying, “If everybody stopped trading with South Korea, they would be able to maintain an industrial civilization with computers, food, and energy” (but they would be significantly poorer). But that is 50 million people. 50 million. We know for a fact that isolated countries- North Korea (25MM), Iran (70MM), Cuba (11MM)- do not do well. These countries in general have the things you would expect for economic strength- resources, large land areas, etc- but they lack a connection to the broader human noosphere and economy that each and every one of us in developed countries plug into thoughtlessly everyday. The lessons of “How to Invent Everything” is you fucking don’t. You are a single cell playing a part in a vast temporal, spatial eusocial organism. Every part of your mind has been impacted by the discoveries and profound, accidental realizations of barely literate chimps. Every day you rely on not just your family, not just your community, but on an entire planet of those same barely literate chimps. How do you invent everything? With other people. Other people: “The people are the heroes now Behemoth pulls the peasant’s plow When we look up, the fields are white The fields are white! With harvest in the morning light And mountain ranges one by one Rise red beneath the harvest moon”

  30. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie

    An Entertaining Enterprise: HOW TO INVENT EVERYTHING http://fangswandsandfairydust.com/201... This is what you need to reinvent civilization and technology if your time machine strands you in the past. I voluntarily reviewed an advance readers copy of this book. No remuneration was exchanged and all opinions presented herein are my own except as noted. This book is great fun, and has lots and lots of cool information that certainly would come in handy if you needed to reinvent civilization and do a An Entertaining Enterprise: HOW TO INVENT EVERYTHING http://fangswandsandfairydust.com/201... This is what you need to reinvent civilization and technology if your time machine strands you in the past. I voluntarily reviewed an advance readers copy of this book. No remuneration was exchanged and all opinions presented herein are my own except as noted. This book is great fun, and has lots and lots of cool information that certainly would come in handy if you needed to reinvent civilization and do a better job at it than our ancestors. It starts off with a device that allows you to suspend disbelief: while working in construction the author found an actual book on how to repair a time machine. This is the book you are going to hear. The author does a great job reading through the chapters; I usually like to have authors read their non-fiction stuff, especially when it is humorous. And this is chock full of humor. the point of an audio book is NOT having a print book that you need to look at. I have occasionally found this problematic with the sciences In the audio format, and without the appendices at hand you’re going to need to go back and look at them for the full experience, or truly understand the copy. Not having access to any of the graphic features as I listened was definitely an issue. While reading a manual in print the graphics are naturally and easily perused. But I listen to a book while I am otherwise engaged and in many cases it would be dangerous. I would say that for this one to be successful for me I would most definitely have to sit with an accompanying website to see them as I listened. This would preclude most other activities. I also felt the book was written for a younger audience than my old-lady self. It is a very easy way to read about science and technology. The history is fascinating, and if I were reading it with a bunch of space aliens, I might be embarrassed if they heard how long we went between the invention of the wheel for uses other than transportation and figuring that out, or by how many times humans knew something and forgot to take notes. So, while I think the book is engaging and even though the author is an excellent narrator, I do not think audio is the best format. It’s like having lyrics without the sheet music or a graphic novel sans graphics. But I do recommend it in print — and have to my friends. Or, if you’re someone who sits to listen and doesn’t mind having to checkout graphics for a book via other means, then I guess you might find the audio a good fit. But, it print I am sure it is both funny and instructive.

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