Review: What if? by Randall Munroe (xkcd)

xkcdBy Line: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions
Published by: John Murray
ISBN 13: 9781848549586
Published: September 2014
Pages: 336
Format reviewed: Paperback
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five

Most people would know Randall Munroe from this excellent webcomic xkcd which receives 600,000 to a million page hits daily. The comic’s tagline describes it as a “Stick-figure strip featuring humour about technology, science, mathematics and relationships. Randall is a CNU graduate with a degree in physics. Before starting xkcd, hr worked on robots at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia, which is pretty dang awesome.

Recently, Randall won a Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story in 2014, for “Time” which is a playable flick-book style comic. He also has a list of some pretty interesting inspired events of which you can read up on wiki.

All that aside, we’re here to talk about the actual book. Due to his background, Munroe receives emails asking him to solve disagreements between friends such as ‘My friend and I were arguing about what would happen if a bullet got struck by lightning, and we agreed that you should resolve it . . . ‘ This book is the result of his ability to answer scientific debates.

Example questions within this book are:

‘What is everyone actually had only one soul mate, a random person somewhere in the world?’

‘If an asteroid was very small but supermassive, could you really live on it like the Little Prince?’

It also has collections of ‘weird and worrying questions’ which he doesn’t answer, he just presents them to show what he receives. Such as:

‘How many houses are burned down in the United States every year? What would be the easiest way to increase that number by a significant amount (say at least 15%)?’

Throughout the book we see how Munroe runs computer simulations, pores over stacks of declassified military research memos, solves differential equations, and consults with nuclear reactor operators to come up with involved yet likely and explainable answers. the back of the book has references for those who want to look into things even more.

This is a fun book to look through even if you’re not mathematically or scientifically minded, and it’s a sure winner for a gift for that friend you’re not quite sure to get them. It’s actually quality whilst being a fun and amusing book.


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