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What If: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions [Hardcover]

Randall Munroe
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
RRP: 14.99
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Book Description

4 Sep 2014

From the creator of the wildly popular xkcd.com, hilarious and informative answers to important questions you probably never thought to ask.

Millions visit xkcd.com each week to read Randall Munroe's iconic webcomic. Fans ask him a lot of strange questions: How fast can you hit a speed bump, driving, and live? When (if ever) did the sun go down on the British Empire? When will Facebook contain more profiles of dead people than living? How many humans would a T Rex rampaging through New York need to eat a day?

In pursuit of answers, Munroe runs computer simulations, pores over stacks of declassified military research memos, solves differential equations and consults nuclear reactor operators. His responses are masterpieces of clarity and hilarity, complemented by comics. They often predict the complete annihilation of humankind, or at least a really big explosion.


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Frequently Bought Together

What If: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions + Xkcd: Volume 0 + Cooking for Geeks: Real Science, Great Hacks, and Good Food
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: John Murray (4 Sep 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 1848549571
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848549579
  • Product Dimensions: 20.2 x 15.6 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 17 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Review

With this book and with XKCD, you're a kid with a chemistry set all over again. [Randall Munroe's] enthusiasm for all things scientific is infectious . . . required reading . . . for grown-ups, it's just fun to remember that science is really, really cool (Register)

XKCD is nerd royalty, the alpha dork, there's no geek more widely cited and loved (BEN GOLDACRE, author of BAD SCIENCE)

It's totally brilliant and everyone who matters already knows that! (TIM HARFORD, THE UNDERCOVER ECONOMIST)

Book Description

Science's most intriguing questions answered by the web's favourite writer, the genius behind xkcd.com.

Munroe's hilarious and compelling answers explain everything from the odds of meeting your one true soulmate to how many humans a rampaging T-Rex would need to eat a day.


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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
By Denis Vukosav TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
‘What If?’ written by Randall Munroe is a book that from beginning to the end with its style - a combination of humor and true facts - manages to charm the reader and doesn’t allow you to put it aside.

Book starts with an anecdote from the author’s youth in which he calculated how many soft and hard things are in the world which in short presents the style using which this work was written. And though in the end he admits not knowing whether there are more ones or the others, he will tell the reader many interesting (his favorite ones) stories learned along the life path.

On 320 pages divided in almost 70 chapters he will bring one “What if…” question per chapter and then provide answer which will both entertain and teach you, sometimes even amaze you.

Questions are different, those most ones are related to nature such as “What would happen if the Earth and all terrestrial objects suddenly stopped spinning, but the atmosphere retained its velocity” or environmental ones such as “What if I took a swim in a typical spent nuclear fuel pool”.

What gives the book an extra charm are at first glance casually drawn illustrations as if they were the result of the game of preschool child with which the pages are decorated which all together leads to situation you’ll truly fly through the book, having constantly good time.

And mainly for this reason I recommend Randall Munroe’s book ‘What If?’ as good example that science does not have to be boring if presented in a way everyone could understand (and have fun).
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5.0 out of 5 stars FULL OF HUMOR AND HARD FACTS! 30 Aug 2014
Format:Audio CD
I expected What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe, creator of xkcd, to be an entertaining read. But its fun and knowledge value far exceeded my expectations. One of the best non-fiction books I have read in a long, long time, What If? is a book of science, humor, comics, reference, comedy and trivia. It is an informative and enjoyable as the author has delightfully mixed fun with the hard stuffs which make it almost impossible to put it down.

This amazing book of over three hundred pages contains a number of questions that you'd never think of. Yet, reading the questions and answers would make you to sit up and think things you've never thought before. Just sample this: What is the farthest one human being has ever been from every other living person? Were they lonely? Answer: It's hard to know for sure. The most likely suspects are the six Apollo command module pilots who stayed in lunar orbit during a Moon landing: Mike Collins, Dick Gordon, Stu Roosa, Al Worden, Ken Mattingly, and Ron Evans. Each of these astronauts stayed alone in the command module while two other astronauts landed on the Moon. At the highest point in their orbit, they were about 3585 kilometers from their fellow astronauts.

Fun, engaging, enlightening and hilarious, this is a must-read book if you want the answer to some weird questions like, Is it possible to cry so much you dehydrate yourself? Or what would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90 percent the speed of light?
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential Reading 28 Aug 2014
By R. Eisenberg - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
At first it might seem dismissive and reductive to call anything "a bathroom book", or a "waiting room" book, (when was the last time you saw a book in a waiting room, anyway?) but unfortunately, this is the appellation under which most "factoid" (or light humor) books must labor.

However, were you to relegate this amazing book to your WC, despite the number of flushes you hear in a day, there would always be a line.

In the case of "What If", this tragic location it is a far cry from what is deserved by the quality of writing, the subject and sense of humor herein. While obviously not having narrative, story or continuity, it has a greater consistency than could be called a topic- humor. OK, two. Humor and patience. Three: Humor, patience, and some amazing research.

A disclaimer from Randall Munroe: "I am a guy who draws pictures on the Internet. I like it when things catch fire and explode, which means I do not have your best interests in mind."

I was instantly hooked.

Further: For the question that warrants a different sort of answer- "What happens if you set off a nuclear bomb in the center of a hurricane? Would the storm cell be vaporized?" Munroe has only to quote NOAA as they reply, "Needless to say, this is not a good idea." Unsurprisingly, he cites their entire reference article.) In fact, the text is followed by a goodly section of references.

There is no doubt he went the distance on these questions, and did so with a mind to give the most accurate, honest and flat out funny answer possible, in some cases going far over the top than the original question requires. These are the truly great ones.

You can read it cover to cover if you, well, can read it cover to cover. I tried- but each question was either so bizarre ("Is it possible to build a jetpack using downward-firing machine guns?") or compellingly simple ("How high can you throw something?") and answered with equal time, patience and laugh out loud humor that you will not want to miss a page. My copy is already thumb marked and creased from floating around so much. And don't loan it to anyone.

Anyone familiar with Randall Munroes's excellent and oft-reposted internet comic, "xkcd" ("A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language.")will not be surprised but quite pleased to have a portable, non-electronic version of one of my favorite parts of Munroe's strip- the reader questions. The website consists of not merely these questions, but strips often based life in general through twisted looks via probability science. Another feature, of course, is the "What If" section, from where the rich number of these are drawn.

Here are collected what we must assume are the best of these questions, postulating impossible and absurd questions that might, in some other universe, be quite serious. And as best as one can with tongue in cheek, Munroe uses his extensive background in math and physics to give every question the answer, no matter how improbably. An indestructible heater running on infinite power in a sealed one-meter cube- haven't you always wondered?

Some are just inexplicable and unanswered "Weird And Worrying Questions", perhaps for "What If" Vol II.

But if I had to state a theme, it is that of suffering fools gladly, which the author proves page after page after page. Even though to a scientist, especially a scientist with a great sense of humor, as the maxim says, "there are no stupid questions"

I had hoped to find the real answer to some of the questions most famously posed by comedian Steven Wright, maybe 30 years ago, perhaps previously the best known purveyor of same-

"If you are in a spaceship that is traveling at the speed of light, and you turn on the headlights, does anything happen?" It would not surprise me if this has been addressed already.

"Sponges grow in the ocean. That just kills me. I wonder how much deeper the ocean would be if that didn't happen."

This book could be considered to be impossible to read in a sitting, or at least continuously, and yet too good to resist trying. Impossible primarily because it is so well written- just the right touch of serious science and irrepressible humor. Not to mention, the questions do nothing if but give cause for the reader to sit slack jawed and wonder how they could have been conceived in the first place, let alone uttered aloud.

So here's an unlikely comparison, but in fact it was one of my earliest thoughts: Bill Griffith's "Zippy The Pinhead" and Munroe's "What If?"

While the text in Zippy - often the title itself- usually makes a point, or describes the strip or does not seem immediately relevant, it is nothing compared to the artwork, which is usually so subtly stunning few people recognize it as such

"What If?" and its Internet source, Munroe's fabulous "xkcd dot com" is more or less the opposite. The still entertaining artwork is not any big deal (though still informing the comic) but the text is mind blowing. I mean no disrespect to either author- quite the opposite, I am huge fans of both.

Randall Munroe treats each question as if it had the gravity (a lot of gravity questions here- sorry) of your typical "is there intelligent life in the universe (on Earth, for that matter) yet maintains the attitude of early Bill Cosby- "Why is there air?"

This is one of the most captivating and thoroughly enjoyable books I have seen in a long time.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars FULL OF HUMOR AND HARD FACTS! 29 Aug 2014
By the GreatReads! - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
I expected What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe, creator of xkcd, to be an entertaining read. But its fun and knowledge value far exceeded my expectations. One of the best non-fiction books I have read in a long, long time, What If? is a book of science, humor, comics, reference, comedy and trivia. It is an informative and enjoyable as the author has delightfully mixed fun with the hard stuffs which make it almost impossible to put it down.

This amazing book of over three hundred pages contains a number of questions that you'd never think of. Yet, reading the questions and answers would make you to sit up and think things you've never thought before. Just sample this: What is the farthest one human being has ever been from every other living person? Were they lonely? Answer: It's hard to know for sure. The most likely suspects are the six Apollo command module pilots who stayed in lunar orbit during a Moon landing: Mike Collins, Dick Gordon, Stu Roosa, Al Worden, Ken Mattingly, and Ron Evans. Each of these astronauts stayed alone in the command module while two other astronauts landed on the Moon. At the highest point in their orbit, they were about 3585 kilometers from their fellow astronauts.

Fun, engaging, enlightening and hilarious, this is a must-read book if you want the answer to some weird questions like, Is it possible to cry so much you dehydrate yourself? Or what would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90 percent the speed of light?
2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very fun, and quite interesting 29 Aug 2014
By Mom Shopper - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
My 11 (almost 12) year old son loves this book! It has questions about jumping in a nuclear pool, all the people in the world jumping at the same time etc. It is dumb scientific questions that boys ask themselves, with the answers...

It is just a couple pages per question, so it is something you could read in short snippets. I really like that it gets their brains working, and they come up with even more "absurd" questions.

This is a definite recommend for boys ages 11-14 who love science.
1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Are you a fan? If not you will be after this book. 29 Aug 2014
By Gene Bowker - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
If you are a fan of xkcd.com you are going to love this book. If you aren't a fan yet, you will be after reading this book.

All those dumb questions out there? Munroe has the answers... I found myself laughing out loud at some of them and all of them got a good chuckle at least.

The next time I'm asked an absurd question, I hope I can come up with an answer even 1/2 as witty as these.
7 of 37 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fun way to learn obscure facts 26 Aug 2014
By Tiger - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This was not what I expected. I was expecting questions that were more theoretical in nature....like, would you rather eat a frog or run a marathon. But this book has questions that have real facts and a fun way of showing you how to figure out the answer. I definitely learned a few things! But this would definitely appeal more to those of us with a "nerd" side than a humorous introspection.
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