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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing answers to very silly science questions
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...
Published 1 month ago by Brian Clegg

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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great read, well it was the first time I read it.
I'm only 50ish% of the way through and I can't deny it's been entertaining. The problem is that I've read most of it already on the what if? website.
I can't help but feel a little disappointed, but I'm also happy to finally support an author I've read for many years for free.

Mixed feelings so a mixed review score. However, a definite buy recommendation...
Published 1 month ago by Thomas J. Garrard


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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing answers to very silly science questions, 11 Sep 2014
By 
Brian Clegg "Brian Clegg" (Wiltshire, England) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: What If: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions (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.

The main problem with Gamow's books is that they suffer from an excess of whimsy, which was considered funny at the time, something that Munroe does occasional succumb to in his footnotes. Two other slight problems with What If are that some of the problems are so silly that it's easy to think 'So what?' and after a while the format gets a bit samey.

However, it's hard not to admire the straight faced aplomb with which Munroe deals with weird problem after weird problem - and often takes them so far over the top they become more interesting still. (For instance when asking a question about a hair dryer in a box, he considers the outcome for different powers of hair dryers up to 11 petawatts, which is considerably more than the EU likes to allow for electrical goods. (Sorry, the whimsy is catching.) )

The fact is this is a very likeable and fun book that should entertain many readers.
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93 of 99 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I think my copy is defective., 6 Sep 2014
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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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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A-Minus-Minus, 16 Sep 2014
By 
P. Reynolds (Stourbridge, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: What If: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions (Hardcover)
Instead of book package contained bobcat.
Would not buy again.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing, humorous, and there's even an error on Page 4! Deliberate? Probably... (no spoilers here, details in comments), 4 Sep 2014
By 
Big Ben "fly_mo" (Bedford, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: What If: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions (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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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For every amateur scientist, geek or nerd, I cannot recommend this book too highly, 6 Sep 2014
By 
Clive Freeman "rockhacker" (Oxfordshire, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: What If: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions (Hardcover)
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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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars FULL OF HUMOR AND HARD FACTS!, 30 Aug 2014
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How would it take to laugh yourself to death?, 5 Sep 2014
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This review is from: What If: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions (Hardcover)
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The most enjoyable read I've had in years, 5 Oct 2014
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This review is from: What If: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions (Hardcover)
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunningly entertaining!, 4 Sep 2014
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This review is from: What If: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions (Hardcover)
This book brings science and mathematics to life in a truly unique and innovative format. I can only imagine the countless hours the author must have spent researching, calculating, and pondering some of its wildly obscure subject matter. And to share it in such a hilarious and amusing way speaks volumes of his talent.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Science does not have to be boring if presented in a way everyone could understand, 2 Sep 2014
By 
Denis Vukosav - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
‘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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