The book tackles tricky and absurd questions by using fascinating scientific reasoning to arrive at an answer. Check out our amazing TSR user reviews below to find out more!
Despite it being a scientific book and me being well me when it comes to science was a bit hesitant to read it, but all my worries were easily washed away the moment I started reading it. Munroe explained everything in lay terms, meaning that even if you aren't a NASA Roboticist like he is, you'd still be able to understand the science behind the answers.
The mini-comics in the book portray the pure sass that is Munroe's sense of humour, I was laughing at his sass throughout, which fair to say caused some odd looks off my parents, but it was well worth it. Fair to say, Munroe made learning fun, which something my previous and present teachers could learn from.
I'm glad to say that I will be telling my friends to buy a copy and I advise that EVERYONE, and I mean everyone goes out and buys it because a book of this quality only comes around once in a blue moon and I swear that the next one won't live up to this.
So GO GO GO buy a copy because I swear you won't regret it.
There is an additional 'Weird and worrying questions' section split into twelve parts, and this has a twofold effect; it acts as a break in the sometimes heavy science and tells you when to put the book down and remember to eat, drink and sleep (a difficult task at some points of reading), and it provides Munroe a chance to respond to otherwise impossible or insane questions, either through cartoons or (more telling) through silence. The cartoons themselves are a masterstroke, as they (miraculously) simultaneously compliment the answer being given through a quaint, simplistic style, and make fun of either the questioner (named and shamed on occasion) or Munroe himself.
Munroe is a naturally passionate individual, and this shines through in his writing. Each question takes us on a journey through time and space, with carefully crafted rambling seemingly drawing us further and further away from the point, only to tie everything together at the end of the answer, and leaving the reader with more trivial knowledge than they bargained for (how else would you find out about the evolutionary history of the pronghorn if not for an answer about New York?) For anyone who wants details on a specific experiment or detail, Munroe provides citations to other studies, or his own website (who says shameless self-promotion doesn't pay, eh!) I will admit, the only issue I have had with 'What If?' is that sometimes the questions can seem a bit of a slog, with overly long answers or simply too much science for my unscientific mind. That being said, I must stress the point that it is only in my rather subjective experience, and is only a small blip in an overall outstanding book.
Recommending Randall Munroe's new book would be an understatement on my part. If I had unlimited financial and legal backing (as well as permission from the authorities), I would force a copy of 'What If?' into every person's hand, only letting them leave when I see they have checked the first page, which I am certain is enough to leave anyone hooked. Combining science with fun, Munroe expertly blends his ability to explore science in a way that anyone can understand with the quirky, charming little drawings that have become an iconic part of 'xkcd', and not forgetting to shove enough advanced material to keep the dedicated and (if his 'Weird and worrying questions' section is anything to go by) deranged fans happy.
Embedded in the fray of conjecture are xkcd's famous stick characters - Black Hat's back along with the rest of the gang to provide illustrative support amid the head-churning scenarios presented. The book's design as a whole is attractive, with the text presented so as to be easily digestible and fun to read bites at a time. For those who want to go further in-depth, Munroe provides his citations, but the book is by nature light-hearted, with accessibility prized over equations. It's also the case that just under half of the book's content is already available on the What If? blog, which may dissuade existing readers.
This book does remain entertaining and informative, however, and in my opinion deserves recognition for going a step further - it makes difficult and often inscrutable scientific knowledge accessible and enjoyable. Anyone with a bit of curiosity can find themselves surfing through the book on a wave of cerebral satisfaction, thanks to Munroe's ability to apply, collate and distil difficult research topics. The book's a small marvel of investigative irreverence, and leaves you with a better understanding of this weird universe we've somehow wound up in, and for that it gets my thumbs up.
This brings us to this book, “What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions”, which collects together a selection of the best articles from Munroe’s blog. As you proceed through the book, you’ll find yourself intrigued by questions that you never thought that you would be – as well as a few that perhaps you have pondered yourself (how much Force power can Yoda output, anyone?)! With each answer, Munroe expertly dissects the question using familiar concepts, then where more elaborate or complex science is required, he finds a way to explain these approachably using everyday analogies. Throughout, the book remains a pleasure to read
Negatives? Well, the book is probably not as well-suited to intensive reading as some might be, instead lending itself more to being take in smaller chunks. I’d also warn that if – as I am – you’re already reading “What if?” in blog form regularly, you’ll have seen a lot of the material in the book already, so I can see how some people could be disappointed as a result. I would, however, highlight that there are still a fair number of ‘chapters’ that are brand new and in any case, personally I’m always keen to have media in a physical format where possible.
Presenting each question on the printed page also means that the ‘footnotes’ that Munroe scatters throughout his articles are just a glance away, less easily missed than on a webpage, while the book also allows a number of (unanswered) “worrying” questions to be featured as a brief diversion (think “what if, every day, every human had a 1% chance of being turned into a turkey…?” to get some idea of what to expect from these).
So, as is probably clear, “What If?” gets my strong recommendation and if you have any interest at all in science I’d expect you to find it a very worthwhile and enjoyable purchase. If you’re not yet convinced, the blog offers a great chance to sample the material that you’ll find in the book – and you can click here to find out why a T-Rex would need to eat one of us every two days to survive!
Munroe delights in the esoteric and the ridiculous. As one turns the page, it is impossible to tell what will pop up next. A drain installed in the Pacific, baseballs travelling at nearly the speed of light, the death of Facebook, a moon made of moles – there is no end to the surreal oddness. As the title would suggest, the book is written in a question and answer style, each a few pages long. As one might guess, the book is full of Munroe’s famous stick-figure cartoons, and I think they add a new dimension – even when the people depicted have no facial features, a picture really does speak a thousand words.
However, what really brings the book to life is Munroe’s incredibly incisive wit. If the comics are funny, What If is a whole new world. Admittedly, the style could be annoying if you aren’t on the same wavelength, but let’s be honest, if you’re reading this you probably are. Although Munroe was born and raised in the United States, his humour seems mysteriously British to me. Whether this tells us more about me, Munroe, or American comedians in general, it remains to tell.
But despite all this – or maybe because of it – I think there’s a lot of serious stuff here. A lot of the pages seem almost Feynmanesque in their explanations, and I actually finished the book with a very slightly clearer understanding of nuclear fusion, fluorine, lightning and hundreds of other topics. Clearly the book’s primary purpose is not to teach; nevertheless I seem to have learned a great deal. Even if none of the science sticks, the method used to answer these questions is fairly unique, and I have definitely started to try and work out the answer to similar questions as of late.
In addition to all the standard answers, there are also little asides including ‘Weird (and Worrying) Questions from the What If Inbox’. Apparently, there are some questions so stupid even this author won’t attempt to give an answer. However, what he does give us is a selection of his cartoons, passing snide comments on the strange minds who wonder such things as whether you could decapitate someone with chicken wire.
Overall, this book is definitely in the realm of popular science. But if I’m honest, that’s an excellent thing in this case. This book is a perfect union of science, humour, snarky footnotes and stick figures that I wholeheartedly recommend buying. The answers are never going to be useful, but this book could well help you to start asking the right questions, at least…
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To pose or answer a What If? question please see our thread inspired by the blog!