Book review: What if? (by Randall Munroe)

Title: What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothethical Questions
Author: Randall Munroe
Page count: 303 pages
Rating: 3/5 stars

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Goodreads summary:

Millions of people visit xkcd.com each week to read Randall Munroe’s iconic webcomic. His stick-figure drawings about science, technology, language, and love have an enormous, dedicated following, as do his deeply researched answers to his fans’ strangest questions. The queries he receives range from merely odd to downright diabolical:

• What if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90 percent the speed of light?
• What if I took a swim in a spent-nuclear-fuel pool?
• Could you build a jetpack using downward-firing machine guns?
• What if a Richter 15 earthquake hit New York City?
• What would happen if someone’s DNA vanished?

His responses are masterpieces of clarity and wit, gleefully and accurately explaining everything from your odds of meeting your soul mate to the many horrible ways you could die while building a periodic table out of all the actual elements.

The book features the most popular answers from the xkcd’sWhat If? blog, but many of the questions (51 percent!) are new and aswered here for the first time. What If? is an informative feast for xkcd fans and anyone who loves to ponder the hypothetical.

Non-fiction reviews are hard. How do you talk about your opinion when the book is about facts? It doesn’t help that I’ve read this book almost 3 months ago, and that it didn’t leave that much of an impression. Well. There’s your review in a nutshell, I suppose.

Here’s what I do  remember:

This book is about fun science. It’s ridiculous, it’s hilarious at times, and at other times I had no idea what I’d just read and just kind of shrugged and moved on anyway. My grasp of science, while I’m really interested, is still questionable at best (thanks, high school).

I loved the pages with the Weird (and Worrying) Questions from the What If? Inbox, where questions range from simply too weird to extremely suspicious.

I did also love some of the regular questions (I use the word “regular” loosely here). I like thinking about extremely unlikely hypothetical questions, and boy does this book not disappoint in this. Personally, as a Dutch person, I especially appreciate the question about draining the oceans, where the answer simultaneously proves that the Netherlands would take over the world. I like that thought. Thanks, Randall. (This specific comic is online, too.)

That said, while I enjoyed parts of the book and even sometimes laughed out loud, it does get a bit tedious after a while. To be honest, it’s probably better as a coffeetable book, to flip through occassionally or just read a chapter every now and then when you feel like it.

So if you’re interested in fun but completely random science and weird and ridiculous thoughts and questions that get answered in the most over-the-top manner, then this book is for you. If you just have a casual interest in science and humour, this might still be for you.

Did you read this book? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments below!

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