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What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions Hardcover – 4 Sep 2014

303 customer reviews

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Frequently Bought Together

  • What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions
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  • Xkcd: Volume 0
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Total price: £22.82
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: John Murray (4 Sept. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848549571
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848549579
  • Product Dimensions: 16.4 x 3.1 x 20.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (303 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,268 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Randall Munroe is the creator of the webcomic xkcd and author of xkcd: Volume 0. Randall was born in Easton, Pennsylvania, and grew up outside Richmond, Virginia. After studying physics at Christopher Newport University, he got a job building robots at NASA Langley Research Center. In 2006 he left NASA to draw comics on the internet full time, and has since been nominated for a Hugo Award three times. The International Astronomical Union recently named an asteroid after him: asteroid 4942 Munroe is big enough to cause mass extinction if it ever hits a planet like Earth.

Product Description


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)

Smart answers to silly questions: Randall Munroe reveals all (GUARDIAN)

What If? maintains a delightfully free-wheeling tone throughout, especially when complicated calculations lead to whimsical results. Despite all the hard facts and gigantic numbers, it never feels like a textbook-and you don't have to be a rocket scientist to enjoy it (ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY)

The best bathroom book you'll ever buy...Munroe takes inane, useless and often quite pointless questions asked by real humans (mostly sent to him through his website), and turns them into beautiful expositions on the impossible that illuminate the furthest reaches, almost to the limits, of the modern sciences .The first chapter, "Q. What would happen if the Earth and all terrestrial objects suddenly stopped spinning, but the atmosphere retained its velocity?" ends with the anthropomorphized moon worrying over the state of the Earth, and, with the gravity generated by its own rotation around the Earth, saving our dying planet. The physics are real; so is the emotional content. . . The answers are all illustrated with xkcd's trademark stick figures.. . . . and these are eminently approachable (NEWSWEEK)


What If? includes old favorites, new inquiries and the mix of expert research and accessible wit that has made Munroe a favorite among both geeks and laymen (TIME)

Munroe's brilliant What-If? column-which features scientifically rigorous, utterly absurd answers to ridiculous hypotheticals-has been on the bestseller lists since it was announced in March. Today, it hits shelves and: It. Is. A. Triumph (BOINGBOING)

[What If?] has solved my annual birthday-present and holiday-gift dilemmas for a large group of people . . . What makes Munroe's work so fantastic is a combination of two elements: his commitment to trying to answer even the weirdest question with solid science, and his undeniable sense of humour. So, here's a "What If?" from me: If everyone on the planet simultaneously bought a copy of this book, stopped what they were doing and read it cover to cover, would modern civilization and our global economy collapse? It's worth trying the experiment. (HUFFINGTON POST)

For the record, I'm loving XKCD's What If -- 'Dear Abby for mad scientists' (NEIL GAIMAN)

Munroe has hit on a wonderful form of science and engineering communication that can do so much-extolling the value of analytical thinking, examining data, and doing back-of-the-envelope calculations-while entertaining readers at the same time . . . an incredibly fun book with quirky, hand-drawn pictures (AMERICAN SCIENTIST)

Thoughtful, scientific, and highly entertaining (PARADE)

If you're the kind of person whose brain whizzes with questions, Munroe's book may calm the noise. He's done all the hard work for you (SHORTLIST)

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)

Education should aim to teach people to reason confidently about problems that they have never come across before. This book is a great deal of fun, and a masterclass in such reasoning. Like all the best lessons, you only realise you've learnt something once you've finished it (The Economist)

Dangerously absorbing . . . if you have ever been gripped by an insatiable, preposterous intellectual curiosity (regardless of actual scientific knowledge), I could not think of a better book to keep you from doing that essay for an extra hour or two (Varsity)

The reader is left constantly subject to outbursts of laughter, lin­gering doubts concerning the sanity of the human race, and an ever-growing fascination with the way our world and the universe works . . . Though science geeks will be the first to acknowledge Munroe's greatness, even people suffering from a chronic hatred towards anything concerned with math will find the humour and absurdity of What If? hard to resist (The Student)

Funny and fascinating: brilliant for dinner with mates (Graeme le Saux)

It will satisfy the curious and arouse curiosity in anyone who's not - and it's got great jokes (Irish Times)

An essential holiday companion (Nature)

Book Description

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

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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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Helpful Advice on 2 Sept. 2014
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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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Mr A. J. Rushby on 5 Oct. 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Wonderfully written, the book is effortless to read and the answers are well constructed, scientifically robust and extremely entertaining! Of course, the illustrations are excellent and well placed, and the layout of the book itself is logical and keeps me coming back for more. My only complaint: I wish it was longer!
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189 of 209 people found the following review helpful By Paul Hickman on 6 Sept. 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I've been hovering my finger over one of the illustrations for five minutes now, and the tooltip still hasn't appeared.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Alexander Scott on 2 May 2015
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you've ever wondered "What if..." and then dismissed it as a silly question that no-one would take seriously enough to answer, don't be so sure. Randall Munroe has taken over 50 of those questions (as supplied by readers of his webcomic) quite seriously indeed, and attempted to find out the answer and explain it for the ordinary reader. More often than not he then proceeds to expand or elaborate, with the help of extrapolation ad absurdum, whimsical asides, and of course his well-known stick figures. On the way through this book the reader will learn a surprising amount about the geographies of Earth and Mars, the effects of "trying more power", and just why one cannot survive trying to swim in a nuclear fuel storage pool (hint: it's not the radioactivity).

This book is probably best enjoyed by readers with enough of a science/engineering/maths background to recognise some of the terms and equations being put to new use. But it would also be an excellent way of introducing younger readers to the scientific process: starting with a question, working out a method to answer it, and finding resources to inform that method. If your kids complain that science is just a lot of boring memorisation, perhaps a mini what-if project will capture their imagination.

Of course, this book may also qualify as one of the greatest serial nerdsnipes ever. I wonder how many points you get for webcomic artists...
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Brian Clegg TOP 500 REVIEWER on 11 Sept. 2014
Format: Hardcover
I am deeply suspicious whenever a book is sold on the basis that its author is in some sense famous, so I was immediately wary of Randall Munroe's What If, especially as the book was plastered with references to his internet science cartoon site xkcd. The press release gets even more excited, proclaiming 'Science's most intriguing questions answered by the web's favourite writer, the genius behind' Damn him with faint praise, won't you? This isn't helped by the fact that the few times I've seen Munroe's stick cartoons, usually re-spread on social media, I haven't found them at all funny. So it was almost a disappointment when I discovered that I really liked this book.

Munro gives detailed answers to weird questions asked from readers on his website. Questions like 'If every person on Earth aimed a laser pointer at the Moon at the same time, would it change colour?' and 'How much Force power can Yoda output?' There are even some questions that Munroe shakes his head and retreats from - things like 'How many houses are burned down in the US every year? What would be the easiest way to increase the number by a significant amount (say, at least 15%)?'

The answers given are light hearted, but take the challenge seriously and with some impressive back-of-an-envelope calculation and a touch of research deliver convincing answers. There is a distinguished precedent in taking absurd suggestions (admittedly self-generated) and using them to explore the realities of science in George Gamow's classic (if now rather difficult to read) Mr Tompkins books where, for instance, he explores what would happen if the speed of light reduced to a walking pace.
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