Book review: Ryan North’s tips on How To Take Over The World

“A book this informative should be a crime,” the back cover of Ryan North’s latest offering reads. It is indeed packed with facts about the world, but it’s written in an appealing Marvel-comic style that makes it a page-turner.

I rarely choose books based on recommendations. Instead, I go into a small bookshop in Vilnius old town, stuffed with so many piles of tomes that it’s hard for a pair of shoppers to pass each other. Occasionally, I judge by the cover, picking up the most beautiful book first and opening it at random.

“While the world may be large and complex and hard and unfair, it’s also knowable,” I read when I first picked up Ryan North’s How To Take Over the World.

It’s precisely what we here at Cybernews are trying to do with book reviews and explainers – learn about the world just a little bit more, and guide our readers to some valuable resources.

Hooked, I read further.

“It can be understood – as a species, we’ve spent thousands of years doing just that – and once it’s understood, it can be directed, it can be controlled, and it can be improved.”

Say no more, Ryan, your book is coming home with me.

Of course, it’s not only random quotes that made me grab it. First of all, it’s the exciting concept behind the book. Essentially, it’s full of the most curious scientific and factual information about the world – from dinosaur cloning to time travel, the possibility of destroying the internet to the prospect of living forever.

Second, Ryan is a master storyteller. He pushes ajar the door to a cabinet of curiosities – extraordinary facts about science endeavors – but in a way that is reminiscent of a Marvel comic or movie. Unsurprising, given he wrote the Marvel series The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.

The reader is asked to imagine they are a villain trying to take over the world. Ryan is proposing different ways on how to harness emerging technologies to do it – from drilling to the center of the Earth, to holding its core hostage, to cutting off humanity’s internet access.

Besides being a New York Times bestselling author, Ryan is also a programmer, which makes his book, written with a flair characteristic of his comic books, all the more trustworthy.

“We have too many cell phones. We’ve got too many internets. We have got to get rid of those machines.” Chapter 7, titled “DESTROYING THE INTERNET TO SAVE US ALL,” starts with this famous Ray Bradbury quote from 2010.

In a little detour here, I want to remind you of what this literary giant said to internet companies that wanted to put his books on electronic reading devices like Kindle. In Bradbury’s own words, “I said to Yahoo, ‘Prick up your ears and go to hell.’”

Essentially, Ryan is exploring whether it’s possible to shut down the internet since, despite all the beautiful things it can offer, it’s also a place for “gossip and misinformation, hate mobs and brigades, anonymous threats, and crowdsourced harassment.”

So, is it possible to shut it down entirely? You probably know the answer already, but it doesn’t really matter, since Ryan presents a detailed picture of how the internet works and why technically it is nearly impossible to kill off Google. Also, he offers a villainous reader an even more attractive alternative of taking over the world: by forging elections or messing with a nuclear program.

While we may not be holding the “very fate of humanity itself” in our hands, as Ryan insists, I agree with him that the world is knowable. The more you know about it, the harder it will be for real-life villains – for instance, cybercriminals or power-hungry politicians – to manipulate you.

So, let’s get reading.