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What If?

posted by: May 4, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for What If?There is a certain kind of mad science that takes great joy in things exploding, imploding, melting, burning and otherwise flying around violently. If that sounds exciting, Randall Munroe's What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions is for you. The answers are fast, easily understood and amusingly illustrated.

 

A former NASA engineer, Munroe has made his name as the creator of xkcd, one of the most successful webcomics. Three times a week he releases a strip, or something like a strip, (there have been some really wild experiments on the art form that will never be printable in any meaningful way). He covers science, mathematics, engineering, computer programming, romance, language, pop culture and velociraptors. As a public figure who is recognized as being good at science, he gets a lot of questions on scientific ideas, and has compiled quite a few of those questions into a book.

 

Questions answered here include:

  •  Is it possible to build a jetpack using downward firing machine guns?
  •  If an asteroid was very small but supermassive, could you really live on it like the Little Prince?
  •  From what height would you need to drop a steak for it to be cooked by the time it hit the ground?

 

Munroe then proceeds to answer most of these questions with three to five pages of information, full of gleefully horrifying explosions, scientific laws, formulas and an explanation of how he got the answer based on experiments people have done before. Also included are the surprisingly complex stick figure drawings he uses to illustrate his webcomic. The result is quick, smart and guaranteed to make you the life of the party.

 

And for a palette cleanser, also included are several of the questions that didn't make it into the book, such as:

  •  Would it be possible to stop a volcanic eruption by placing a bomb (thermobaric or nuclear) underneath the surface?

  •  What if everyone in Great Britain went to one of the coasts and started paddling? Could they move the island at all?

 

Apparently, there are questions so ridiculous that they don't need answers.


 
 

Revised: February 29, 2016