By Randall Munroe
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 2014
I’m a big fan of xkcd, so when I saw this book by Randall Munroe, its creator, my instant reaction was “must have.”
What If: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions is a collection of Munroe’s answers to about sixty really absurd hypothetical questions submitted by xkcd readers. It’s marvelous, funny, and very interesting.
I haven’t finished reading the book yet, and I might just take my time and savor it.
My favorite question so far: what would happen if you tried to build a periodic wall of the elements with each brick being made of the corresponding chemical element? Hint: Don’t try this at home. The results would kill you … and everyone in your city.
As regular readers of xkcd already know, Munroe has a terrific ability to explain and illustrate complex ideas. His shows his talent throughout the book as he gives clear, well-researched scientific answers, thoroughly laced with his usual wry humor. Even though the questions are absurd, you’ll learn a lot about physics, chemistry, thermodynamics and math.
And it’s all terrific fun.