Book review: What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions

What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical QuestionsWhat If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a funny, nerdy book that answers some very silly science questions with actual science. There’s also a lot of math, including numbers that are so big you probably don’t want to think much about them. I hate math (or rather, it seems math hates me) but enjoyed the book all the same. Don’t let any math aversion turn you away.

Randall Munroe is the author of XKCD, a stick figure comic that also features a lot of math (and science and technology and stuff). In What If? he answers questions like “What would happen if every person on Earth jumped up and down at the same time?” (answer: not much of anything) As with XKCD, the writing is brainy but accessible and the tone remains light, as one might expect when answering something like “What would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90% the speed of light?” (answer: basically you get the equivalent of a nuclear bomb and would not advance to first base as first base would be vaporized along with everything else in the park)

The questions are regularly interspersed with just-a-little-too-weird “I’m not going to answer that” examples. I can only imagine how many of these types of questions Munroe has received.

The book contains a lot of illustrations to go with the scientific theory, all done in Munroe’s stick figure style. He occasionally teases more complex drawings, suggesting he is not just a one-stick pony, as it were.

What If? is one of those books that’s just plain fun to read. If you think you might enjoy some random answers to random and weird science questions, jump in.

One caution, though. Due to the large number of illustrations, this is a book you may find reads better on a tablet vs. an ereader. The images are black and white, though, so most modern ereaders should handle them decently.

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