Jessica Leigh Hester is a former senior associate editor at CityLab, covering environment and culture. Her work also appears in the New Yorker, The Atlantic, New York Times, Modern Farmer, Village Voice, Slate, BBC, NPR, and other outlets.
Wait, what would happen if a Mars rover sprung a flat tire?
Randall Munroe, a guy who famously ditched his job building robots at NASA to draw the xkcd web comic, announced via blog post this morning that he’s working on a new book due out this fall. Nerds, get ready to pre-order.
Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words, is, uh, kind of self-explanatory. Munroe tackles thorny questions—What’s inside a ball-point pen? What happens if I press this button on the microwave?—with a series of annotated blueprints. Here’s his sketch demystifying NASA’s Curiosity rover rolling around Mars:
The annotations are totally jargon-free, thanks to the fact that the entire book is written using only the thousand (technically, “ten hundred”) most common English words. That self-imposed limitation gives the book a quirky, riddle-like quality—for instance, it takes a second to realize that “really tall roads” signify “bridges.” As a result, it reads like it could have been written by a young whippersnapper who knows a lot about plate tectonics and cellular biology, but not so much about idioms. That weirdness makes this smart book a fun one, too.
Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words; $24.95, from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.