Book Review – What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe

Author Randall Munroe

  • Title: What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions
  • Pages: 320
  • Formats: Trade Paper, Kindle and Audible
  • Availability: Amazon 
  • Website: XKCD.COM

Book Blurb

From the creator of the wildly popular webcomic xkcd, hilarious and informative answers to important questions you probably never thought to ask.

Millions of people visit each week to read Randall Munroe’s iconic webcomic. His stick-figure drawings about science, technology, language, and love have a large and passionate following.

Fans of xkcd ask Munroe a lot of strange questions. What if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90 percent the speed of light? How fast can you hit a speed bump while driving and live? If there was a robot apocalypse, how long would humanity last?

In pursuit of answers, Munroe runs computer simulations, pores over stacks of declassified military research memos, solves differential equations, and consults with nuclear reactor operators. His responses are masterpieces of clarity and hilarity, complemented by signature xkcd comics. They often predict the complete annihilation of humankind, or at least a really big explosion.

The book features new and never-before-answered questions, along with updated and expanded versions of the most popular answers from the xkcd website. What If? will be required reading for xkcd fans and anyone who loves to ponder the hypothetical.

 The concept – Science as entertainment or taking the absurd to the extreme and seeing what it would take to destroy the world (universes optional), your mileage may vary.


The Characters:  This story doesn’t really have characters, just answers and research.  Taking odd, niggling questions such as “What does happen if I put a penny in a power outlet?” and letting someone answer scientifically rather than actually trying this at home.

In fact you should never try this stuff at home.

The book tickled my senses and made me want to get a copy for all my science-nerd friends… most of whom are in my immediate family.

What I liked: 

I liked the fact that there was no such thing as taking things too far… and the fact that no planets were harmed in the process of hypothesizing the answers.

What I didn’t like:

It reminded me that a little knowledge in the wrong hands can be dangerous… or amusing.  (With Randall Munroe… probably both)  and that’s also what I liked.

I enjoyed the book immensely and it was another one of those delightful finds you sometimes get and want to share.  I got to listen to the audio book, narrated by Wil Wheaton, which gave the book that much higher a  science/nerd factor.

All is fair in love and science, just… don’t try this at home…  really… especially not the live periodic table of elements.

December 19, 2015

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