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What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions Hardcover – September 2, 2014
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This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
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An Amazon Best Book of the Month, September 2014: What if everyone on earth aimed a laser pointer at the moon at the same time? What if you could drain all the water from the oceans? What if all the lightning in the world struck the same place? What if there were a book that considered weird, sometimes ridiculous questions, and it was so compelling that you found yourself skimming its pages to find out what would happen if you threw a baseball at light speed? With What If, Randall Munroe has written such a book. As he does in his extraordinarily popular xkcd webcomic, Munroe applies reason and research to hypothetical conundrums ranging from the philosophical to the scientific (often absurd, but never pseudo) that probably seemed awesome in your elementary school days—but were never sufficiently answered. It’s the rare combination of edifying and fun. —Jon Foro
“What If? is one of my Internet must-reads, and I look forward to each new installment, and always read it with delight.” —Cory Doctorow, BoingBoing
“Randall Munroe is a national treasure.” —Phil Plait
“For scientists, the price of progress is specialization. When the goal of any researcher is to lay claim to a tiny niche in a crowded discipline, it’s hard for laypeople to find answers to the really important interdisciplinary questions. Questions like, 'Is it possible to build a jetpack using downward-firing machine guns?' Fortunately, such people can turn to Randall Munroe, the author of the XKCD comic strip loved by fans of internet culture. . . . For Munroe, who writes with a clarity and wit honed over eight years of writing captions for his webcomic, the fact that a question might be impossible to solve is no deterrent to pursuing it.” —Wall Street Journal Speakeasy blog
"By speaking the language of geeks. . . while dealing with relationships and the meaning of a computer-centric life, xkcd has become required reading for techies across the world….The Internet has also created a bond between Mr. Munroe and his readers that is exceptional. They reenact in real life the odd ideas he puts forward in his strip." —The New York Times
"With his steady regimen of math jokes, physics jokes, and antisocial optimism, xkcd creator Randall Munroe, a former NASA roboticist, scores traffic numbers in NBC.com or Oprah.com territory. One key to the strip’s success may be that it doesn’t just comment on nerd culture, it embodies nerd culture." —Wired, in an issue featuring "the people who have shaped the planet’s past 20 years"
"Sometimes the beloved geek-chic webcomic xkcd is funny in a broadly accessible way. Sometimes it’s achingly poignant, sometimes it’s socially intelligent, and sometimes it’s esoteric humor that programmers or scientists have to explain to the rest of us. But at its most ambitious, it either packs massive amounts of interesting information into a small space, or engages in breathtaking experiments with the medium….[A]t its best [xkcd] isn’t a strip comic so much as an idea factory and a shared experience." —Onion AV Club
Top customer reviews
Even though I'd already read the other 49%, I re-read them and was glad I did, as Munroe has added a few things here and there; plus, this stuff is just eminently re-readable. It's the perfect combination of irreverent, rigorous, technical, and fascinating. I look forward to every new "What If" (he posts them each Tuesday or Wednesday) and am always delighted to read the latest.
Even if you've read every "What if" ever posted to the website, this book is still for you - it's especially for you! This is a great way to enjoy older questions and answers over again, updated, and to share them with new people, and the new questions and answers - never featured on the website - are delightful; I won't spoil it for you, but my favorite has to be the answer to "If a bullet with the density of a neutron star were fired from a handgun (ignoring the how) at the Earth's surface, would the Earth be destroyed?"
If you have even a passing interest in science and ever enjoy daydreaming about the fantastic or the ridiculous, this book is for you. If you don't think that you enjoy those things, this book will prove to you that you do.
Also, this is a really great gift idea for basically anyone in your life who can read. Kids will love it, adults will love it (I'm ordering a copy for my dad's birthday), and they will be hooked from the first page (who hasn't wondered what would happen if the Earth suddenly stopped spinning?)
Gift season is coming up; thanks to this book my Christmas shopping will be a great deal easier. I don't usually write reviews, but I logged in and made an exception here. I cannot offer higher praise. Enjoy!
I read this as an e-book on a Samsung tablet, using the Kindle app. The format of this particular book relies heavily on diagrams and footnotes that don't transfer well to the Kindle app. Maybe I just don't use the app properly, but I have trouble clicking on a footnote to read it and then easily getting back to where I was in the text. Ideally, I could click the footnote and have it pop-up right there on the screen. But instead the app takes me to the end of the chapter where I can read the footnote with no easy return. So much of the footnote humor was lost on me.
Randall Munroe takes a lot of these "what if" questions and answers them in a clear and well reasoned manner which shows erudition and humour. What's even better he takes these amazing questions and extends the ideas to improbable extents. Working at the limits shows some fascinating consequences especially explosive ones.
I read this book on my Kindle and the drawings wnd graphics work well. This is a fun look at difficult questions which is written in an engaging, accessible style and with a wry sense of humour. Highly recommended.
I hope Munroe has enough time to write a Volume Two or at least an expanded edition because after this book was published, "What If?" finally featured a thought experiment that destroyed the universe. Which is really the only way to end a book like this, as if it were escalating catastrophes inflicted by a curious child-god upon a virtual universe. Which is also a pretty good description of "imagination" I guess .
Other than that....this book is really good. If you're a nerd. My wife didn't seem to appreciate this as much as I did when I shared tidbits with her. But the sheer ridiculousness of both the questions and answers combined with the real physics behind them made for a fun read.