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What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions Hardcover – September 2, 2014
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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
“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
- Publisher : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; First Edition (September 2, 2014)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 320 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0544272994
- ISBN-13 : 978-0544272996
- Item Weight : 1.8 pounds
- Dimensions : 7 x 1.17 x 9 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #2,725 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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If you want your party guests to quickly return to intelligent conversations after visiting the loo, while still providing them with appropriate reading material, you cannot possibly do better than this.
Short chapters, great illustrations, fascinating topics...
I don't even want to think about how many hours of research went into this book, but it is absolutely amazing and I have given away multiple copies to friends over the years. Very, very highly recommended if you have even a passing interest in science and geekiness...
Thank you Randall Munroe!
The delighter is the kinds of questions asked and taken on - some are downright silly but when viewed through a (semi) serious eye become wondrous. I especially like how he breaks down large seemingly unanswerable questions and uses Napkin math to derive approximations - which exact values aren't needed. It has taught me / given the courage on how to tackle a large problem and use coarse grain math to get started.
Some parts are dumbed down a bit too much causing for me, a few explanations to be rather boring. I've read most of the stories now and find it best to read a few and put down and come back to later. As soon as my toddler daughter finishes the "tear all paper objects up" phase I plan to leave it out on the coffee table. Although my older son has discovered colored magic markers.
Top reviews from other countries
Its a total dip-in book. The short chapters (3-6 pages) are pretty much random, and cover all areas of science. I've learnt stuf about genetics that I never realised, as well as radioactivity, the periodical table and much more besides, as well as chuckling away and giggling and geneally annoying people right through Christmas Day.
Age range? I'd say mid-secondary school (13ish) up to any age as I think you need a moderate grounding in science to get the jokes at times, but I can see it would be a great way for an upper secondary school pupil to really annoy their science teacher. - as well as for science teachers to really engage their pupils.
He has always had an interest in the sciences and studied maths at degree level, so I was a little nervous that this book might be childish or too simplistic. However, this has not been the case at all. It has covered enough complex bits to keep him interested and uses plenty of brilliant witty humour to make it a highly entertaining read. I think I'll be reading it next!
I love the way he applies science, with an open mind, to the many questions he’s been asked, some of them so odd they’ll make your hair curl. One or two of the questions posed are commonly asked of scientists, and others, but Randall Munroe puts an intriguing spin on his answers to these.
I’ll list just a small sample of the questions posed: ‘What would happen if the Earth and all terrestrial objects suddenly stopped spinning, but the atmosphere retained its velocity’, ‘What would happen if you made a periodic table out of cube-shaped bricks, where each brick was made of the corresponding element?’, ‘Let’s assume there’s life on the nearest habitable exoplanet and that they have technology comparable to ours. If they looked at our star right now, what would they see?’, and ‘How many unique English tweets are possible? How long would it take for the population of the world to read them out loud?’
Eclectic: possibly the best description of the content. Amusing, well thought out, undoubtedly contentious in certain circles, informative and entertaining. The author raises other questions in answering those he is set by correspondents, considering the issues as if the questions were serious (most of the time; he does add brief sarcastic comments for some of the more peculiar questions, especially those that might lead the reader to suspect some twisted motivation on behalf of the questioner!)
This is one of those delightful books readers can dip into in odd spare moments and glean some fascinating information along with the mind-bending possibilities discussed.
Thoroughly enjoyable, educational and funny.
I really recommend this as a book for anybody that likes to think and ponder. I wish there was more.