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


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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: 16.6 x 3.1 x 20.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (236 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 423 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

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)

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)

Brilliant (ROLLING STONE)

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)

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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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

172 of 189 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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12 of 13 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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22 of 25 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 XKCD.com.' 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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By RichardFP on 5 Sept. 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Awesome, funny and unique. Randall Munroe has written a wonderfully engaging, well written and clever book. If you like his web-comic xkcd you will struggle to put this book down.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Pepper on 26 Nov. 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Having read the XKCD comic for a number of years, I was excited to see that a book had been released of the spin off site What If. This book collects together some of the posts from that, and adds a few new ones - if you're a fan of the website you will have seen some of these before, so don't expect entirely new content. Regardless, I think it's a nice buy and it's worth it for the new content.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Clive Freeman on 6 Sept. 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I almost never write reviews for books, even books I really like. But this time I need to make an exception: for this is a book that caused me to laugh out loud on almost every page. At every turn, there was a delightful footnote, or a novel concept, even occasionally a new word ("apricity" has become my new favourite, too). My mind is stretched in fantastic and interesting ways, I was entertained continuously, and I couldn't put it down. What more can you ask? Well, my wife asked - eventually, and then repeatedly - that I stop reading particularly fine snippets of it out to her as it was interrupting her, but even this proved something of a challenge for me, for this book is a fine, fine thing indeed.

Randall Muroe - I salute you.
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74 of 90 people found the following review helpful By P. Reynolds on 16 Sept. 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Instead of book package contained bobcat.
Would not buy again.
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26 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Big Ben TOP 500 REVIEWER on 4 Sept. 2014
Format: Hardcover
Randall Munroe is an ex-NASA robotics guy, physics graduate, and cartoonist of great merit.
The cartoon is called XKCD, for reasons that are (of course) documented on his site.
The cartoons are so erudite that there is another web site (a para-site?) called explainxkcd that explains the XKCD cartoons on a daily basis.
You won't need that sort of help when reading this book. It is suitable for all ages and abilities, and opens with the question he 'researched' as a 5-year-old. Recorded in writing by his Mum, it seems. A precocious kid who has fulfilled his early promise!
The title says it all. What it does not say is that the book is gently humorous, and takes care to explain the science content in terms that are plain to all, and (at the same time) it is not over-simplified for an old, hairy engineer/navigator - like me.
A great read.
There is an error on page 4. Yes, really.
Suspect it is there to entertain people like myself - it caused me more glee than seems fair! < enormous grin >
Details will be popped into the comments to avoid being a spoiler here.
Recommended for everybody!
Big thanks to Amazon for delivering this (for free) on the morning that the book was released here.
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