Wednesday, January 7, 2015

What If?

What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions
By Randall Munroe
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014. 303 pgs. Nonfiction

The creator of the popular website xkcd.com and former NASA roboticist Randall Munroe has compiled a book based on the "What If" section of his website.  Readers can ask absurd hypothetical questions (From what height would you need to drop a steak for it to be cooked when it hit the ground?), and Munroe will do his best to legitimately answer the question.  He will run computer simulations, solve equations, research scientific publications, and consult with experts in various fields. Not only does he answer the questions, but he delivers the information in the most interesting way possible, often pushing things to extremes in order to see what would happen if things got really crazy.

His explanations are also full of fascinating information:
"The ISS moves so quickly that if you fired a rifle bullet from one end of a football field, the International Space Station could cross the length of the field before the bullet traveled 10 yards.*"

And often he adds hilarious interjections or observations:
"*This type of play is legal in Australian rules football."

When contemplating reading this book, I wasn't sure I would enjoy it or be able to understand everything.  Instead I was surprised at how readable and entertaining it was.  Everything is explained in easy (and often hilarious) ways to understand, and in the process you can learn really interesting things about how the universe works.  I am now a committed reader of the "What If" section of xkcd.com and I can easily recommend this book to anyone looking for an interesting, fun read.

BHG

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