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

This is just fab. It made me laugh out loud several times. Also science, lots of lovely science with nice twists. Well I say nice, but really evil twists. That’s what makes it funny and interesting.

What if? by Randall Munroe

English: Last panel of the xkcd webcomic "...
English: Last panel of the xkcd webcomic “Philosophy”. On the xkcd site, it displays with the tooltip “It’s like the squirt bottle we use with the cat.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Randall Munroe is best known for the xkcd comics (and if you haven’t read them then you really must). ‘What if?’ comes from an offshoot of the popularity of xkcd. People have been sending Randall their ‘what if?’ questions and Randall has been off to do some research to answer them.

The questions typify the sort of scary thoughts his readers have.

The answers all follow impeccable scientific logic, yet they are written with some hilarious assumptions (on the right side of plausible, think of chemistry played for explosions, fires and spectacular effects rather than safety). Randall has good credentials too, he studied physics and worked for NASA until becoming a full-time cartoonist. He’s a real scientist, especially when it comes to the space stuff.

Some of the questions that get answered include

  • what if you flew an airplane on all the planets in the solar system?
  • what if you put a wormhole at the bottom of the deepest part of the ocean to drain the water?
  • what if you dropped a steak from orbit, would it cook?

There are dozens of these questions, and I laughed at the consequences of almost all of them. There were an amazing number of innocent sounding ‘what if?’ questions that lead to catastrophe. As well as all of those there are bits in the middle where some of the dodgier ‘what if?’ questions get listed, mainly of the ‘asking for a friend’ variety. Many of these get illustrated with xkcd style cartoons. This just adds to the enjoyment of it all.

Seriously, you need to read this book, especially if you aren’t a scientist. It’s entertaining and a little educational, but all fun. Definitely my best book for quite a while.

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