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Monday, March 23, 2015

What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions

Another one of the super hot books at BEA last year was Randall Muroe's What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions. 

Randall Munroe is best known for his presence on the interwebs at xkcd. His latest collection of comics involves actual scientific answers to the crazy questions he receives through his website. It turns out Munroe left NASA in 2005 to be an internet cartoonist so he knows his stuff. Here he gathers together the craziest, coolest, most fun questions he has received and answers them in the most awesome, geekiest way possible -- using science. 

This was a book I wanted so much at Book Expo last year. The challenge with this is, when I spoke with the publisher, the publisher told me that Randall is not big into handing out advance copies of his work. What a super big bummer! Know what I'm saying? I am finally picked it up from the library this past week after discussing it with an old friend who came to visit me whose nephew is currently obsessed with it. In the midst of my crazy book reading expeditions, I had completely forgotten to request it from the library. Thank goodness we had a digital edition, so I got to chuckle out loud quite often on the subway this weekend.

Some of this book is super duper physics-based, which isn't necessarily up my alley, but Randall entertains such completely ridiculous questions that it's difficult not to thoroughly enjoy it even if you don't understand physics in the slightest. Questions about the earth, what will happen to us humans, and even things as crazy as self-combustion are fair game. Scratch that, I don't think self-combustion was addressed but it may as well have been. 

I definitely had some favorites from this book. The first one was the question of whether or not each person has one soulmate meant specifically for them. Never believed in this myself, so I was very interested to hear what Munroe was going to say. He pretty much proved that it is mathematically impossible that there is just one person meant for each of us. It was just as I suspected, but if you really want to be entertained you will read his full explanation. I also thoroughly enjoyed his discussion about rhinoviruses and whether or not if we all completely isolated ourselves for a season if they would disappear in full. The answer is well worth the read, and I'm not going to give it away here.

I loved his discussion of what "flyover state" really means, and a discussion about whether or not it would be possible to self fertilize was one of the most entertaining few pages I've ever read in my life. Note: don't try this at home. His discussion of how quickly one would need to move traveling to space set to the tune of "I'm Gonna Be (1000 Miles)" was positive delightfulness, and frightfully scary at the same time. I hope to god my subway train never attempts it. Finally, the discussion of lightning strikes had me super comforted and excited to read. All of his questions, and the set up of the book, it was really just delightful and I am so thankful I picked it up to entertain my commute this weekend.


This is a book well worth having on the shelf of the geek you love best. (Me. That's me.)

For purchase below. 

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