What If?, by Randall Munroe

What If?Have you read and liked xkcd? Do you enjoy learning about science through hypothetical situations that will NEVER EVER happen (well, one hopes)? If the answer to either of these questions is yes, you should probably obtain this book. If the answer to both is yes, you should probably purchase seven of these books, the better to give away to unsuspecting stick figures.

Basically, Munroe writes this weird little webcomic that sometimes delves into sciencey things because Munroe is a scientist, and recently he started inviting his comic readers to ask him questions of the absurd variety, which he answers on a regular basis in his own stick-figure-based, sarcastic but completely serious way. A few dozen of those lovely questions and their often convoluted answers, along with some strange and/or creepy questions that Munroe does not answer, appear in this book.

This book answers the question, what if Mythbusters took on theoretical physics? You’d get some reasonably well researched, humorously thoughtful answers, as well as the “Jamie want big boom” extensions — what if we used more power? More than that? More than that? What if we made this smaller and smaller and smaller? How far can we take this before the universe explodes?

Unlike Mythbusters, though, the answer is usually “surprisingly far.” Munroe covers some crazy scenarios, from a baseball somehow thrown at nearly the speed of light to a “jet” pack powered by machine guns to a person magically losing his DNA to a rainstorm letting out its entire output in one giant drop, and it turns out that while most of these scenarios are going to cause at least a little death and destruction, only a few of them are going to lead to human extinction. I’m very glad that all of these scenarios are highly unlikely.

I read this book through from beginning to end, one or two or three chapters at a time during breakfast, but my husband would just pick up the book when he was bored and flip to a random chapter and see what was up. Both ways are good, I think, and if you’ve got a blank space on your coffee table that wants to be filled, you could do worse than picking up this book!

Recommendation: For almost everyone, but especially nerds.

Rating: 10/10

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