What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions

What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions

by Randall Munroe


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From the creator of the wildly popular webcomic xkcd, hilarious and informative answers to important questions you probably never thought to ask

Millions of people visit xkcd.com each week to read Randall Munroe’s iconic webcomic. His stick-figure drawings about science, technology, language, and love have an enormous, dedicated following, as do his deeply researched answers to his fans’ strangest questions.

The queries he receives range from merely odd to downright diabolical:

• What if I took a swim in a spent-nuclear-fuel pool?

• Could you build a jetpack using downward-firing machine guns?

• What if a Richter 15 earthquake hit New York City?

• Are fire tornadoes possible?

His responses are masterpieces of clarity and wit, gleefully and accurately explaining everything from the relativistic effects of a baseball pitched at near the speed of light to the many horrible ways you could die while building a periodic table out of all the actual elements.

The book features new and never-before-answered questions, along with the most popular answers from the xkcd website. What If? is an informative feast for xkcd fans and anyone who loves to ponder the hypothetical.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780544272996
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 09/02/2014
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 14,667
Product dimensions: 7.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

RANDALL MUNROE, a former NASA roboticist, is the creator of the webcomic xkcd and the author of xkcd: volume 0. The International Astronomical Union recently named an asteroid after him; asteroid 4942 Munroe is big enough to cause a mass extinction if it ever hits a planet like earth.

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What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 56 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I purchased this for my 12 year old son for Christmas because he's always been interested in science, and he's always spouting off random scientific facts, some true and some just "what ifs." By the day after Christmas, he was 3/4 of the way done with it. I haven't had a chance to read any of it myself, but if it can keep a 12 year old boy - one who also received video games as gifts - interested in reading, it deserves the 5 stars.
fintzu More than 1 year ago
Wonderful book with his usual wit, insight and downright brilliance. There was a bit too much repeated from the website though - I was hoping for a little more new material for the book. But all the same, it's a fabulous read, everyone will enjoy this, and I do plan on buying another copy or two as gifts, so please, don't think I'm being a downer on this title. 4.5 stars for sure!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Randall has an amazing mind, and this book should be the textbook for back-of-a-napkin theories and estimates.  He teaches unit conversion, Fermi estimation, basic research principles, and a variety of other useful skills.  These are the skills that kids today need, and they are presented in a unique and hilarious format.  
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is an AMAZING book. It is fun to read and teaches you something, sort of. It is also a fun book to give to people that you just don't know what to give them.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am a mechanical engineer, philosopher and curator of absurdly unanswered questions about everything. This book, being exactly what it proposes to be, is fantastic. I enjoyed every answer and found the approach to answering such things as have been asked to be evident of a person who shares my curiosity of and love for the infinitum of life. I wish the book was of greater volume.
YoungMensanBookParade More than 1 year ago
Randall Munroe, a former NASA scientist and current creator of the comic XKCD, has been asked so many wacky and absurd questions on his website that he decided to answer them with factual scientific answers in What If?. What If? has the perfect humor to science ratio. It will make you laugh out loud while being stimulated intellectually in the process. Randall Munroe, a talented cartoonist by heart, added many entertaining illustrations to demonstrate the “realistic” effects of the answers to the posed questions. Some of these questions include using a machine gun as a jetpack (bad idea), creating a 3-D periodic table with real cubes of the elements (very bad idea), and draining the oceans (extremely bad idea!!). Needless to say don’t try these experiments at home, but the answers are spectacular and scientifically correct! Although there are not specific chapters, segments of the book are separated by pages of questions that are too weird or worrying to earn a specific answer such as the logistical anomalies that would occur when creating an army of apes and how long it would take a Venus flytrap to “de-juice” a person. Yes, you read that correctly. I highly recommend What If? to readers with a love of science and comics. If you have ever wondered what the weight of a mole of moles (those dirt loving creatures) is, this is the book for you! Reviewed by Alexander H, age 13, Mid-American Mensa
schoenbc1 More than 1 year ago
Randall Munroe's XKCD is often one of the major highlight's of my day.  It's the combination of his  "interesting" brand of humor (thank goodness there are other people out there that don't take the straight line to the end of the 'joke'!) and the awe I feel at his scope of knowledge about things I  always wanted to learn and understand, but, didn't, couldn't.   I don't always get the science, but his pieces almost always make me curious enough to follow-up and try to get at least a basic-level understanding of "what the heck" he is talking about. I still don't always get the joke or point, but I've certainly learned something.  I'm in awe of his depth and breadth of knowledge, his ability to convey that in simple line drawings, and his occasional, but stunning overview of our world and universe.  He is certainly close to, if not on top of people I'd most like to meet.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hilarious scientifically correct answers to questions I've always wondered about but never asked.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Munroe has had to match high expectations he set forth with xkcd and his What If? articles posted there. He mas met and exceeded those expectations.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Munroe is a great blend of funny, smart, and creative.  Buy the book, read the comic.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
get this now
Anonymous 3 months ago
Well the point of the book is to answer stupid, unrealistic questions right? So why are you complaining that there are no interesting questions?
Zirkle 4 months ago
What If? Is cute, funny, and just a bit educational. It is neither a long nor a hard read, and can easily be read in an afternoon. Personally, I’d recommend getting this from a library, since the price is a bit high for such a short read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book combines fun and science. And please make a second book!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
DylanReedIsGreat More than 1 year ago
What If?, by Randall Munroe, a former NASA scientist and current creator of the comic XKCD , is an extremely whimsical book with a perfect balance of humor and science. What If? is sure to entice you with its spectacular questions, such as “What would happen if you made a periodic table out of cube-shaped bricks, where each brick was made of the corresponding element.” This book will stimulate your mind in many ways. What If? is a book for all ages. Its genre is a bit of whimsical science fiction, with many non-fiction elements. It has an objective point of view and includes every intricate fact about the question. Some of it is a little hard to understand, but can be interpreted through context clues. There are many footnotes for readers who cannot understand some words. This is one of the best books I have ever read, and I would read it again multiple times! It kept me hooked with every story, and never disappointed. Usually, the author’s answers to the questions are extremely unrealistic, and there are many hypotheticals throughout the book. A lot of the stories have not so happy endings, yet every story is very entertaining. One of my favorite questions from What if? is “If an asteroid was very small but supermassive, could you really live on it like the Little Prince?”, Munroe answers this question first by explaining that due to the size of the planet, the gravity would change significantly with height, and if you were to run off of a ramp and jump off the asteroid, you would go into orbit at around jogging speed, and explains how if you can’t dunk a basketball on earth, you probably can’t jump high enough to escape one of these asteroid’s orbits. I enjoy this question because instead of going straight into the facts, Munroe jokes around and talks about going into the asteroid’s orbit and basketball, and ends his answer with a humorous depiction of The Little Prince Dunking a basketball, with the caption “Cleveland-area fans of French children’s literature were disappointed by the Prince’s decision to sign with the Miami Heat.” I strongly recommend this book to anyone who wants a good laugh, or wants to fill their mind with interesting yet spectacularly useless knowledge. It’s whimsical nature appeals to anyone and almost everyone, and paired with its scientific and humorous factors, What If? is a truly amazing book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What If by Randall Munroe is a nonfiction book that answers random scientific question with actual facts and proof. This book is highly recommended as it is very interesting. When the author answers the questions they use a humor tone behind the facts that makes the reading a lot more interesting. The way the author teaches the reader about the absurd questions and logically answers them is a way that if it was used in classrooms would entrigue more students to pay attention and learn the content. The main people who would read this book and highly enjoy it are those that like knowing random facts, like funny reads that are also informative and people who want an easy read but have a curiosity for science. This book would not turn into a good movie because it jumps around too much from topic to topic and would be really hard to follow. For the most part this book is best used as an informative piece. Overall What If is a really good book to pick up pieces of information and give a new perspective to scientific questions. The book doesn’t have a general flow but is a really good read, and is highly recommended for the curious mind.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
You will learn oddly entertaining and interesting facts you can use to confuse and confound your family and friends. ~*~LEB~*~
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good book altogether. One line in the ebook version has very jumbled and impossible to read text. Is there a fix for this? It occurs on page 168(mobile) in the second page of the speed bump chapter. Will give five stars if this can be fixed or i can be reimbursed somehow.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago