Reviewed by Ambrea
Randall Munroe, creator of the popular webcomic xkcd, answers a variety of scientific (and, frequently, absurd) questions that he has received—including:
· What would happen if someone made a periodic table out of actual elements?
· Is it possible to build a jetpack using machine guns?
· What would happen if someone took a swim in a spent nuclear fuel pool?
· What would be the effects of an earthquake measuring 15 on the Richter scale?
· What happens to the last artificial light if humans suddenly disappeared?
· And, most importantly, what does a mole of moles look like?
I truly enjoyed Munroe’s book. It was absolutely hilarious, combining absurdity with comedy—and, yes, real scientific inquiry and mathematical solutions. Plus, he often spices up his book with illustrations (stick figures, to be precise), which makes What If? a little more interesting and, truthfully, a lot funnier.
Although the questions Munroe answers may be completely, off-the-wall crazy—or dangerously stupid to attempt—the author makes a sincere attempt to offer answers. The questions may not always make sense, the consequences are typically catastrophic, but Munroe makes a valid case for each and every explanation he offers and he manages to throw in a hint of wry, biting humor that makes What If? funny, informative, and enjoyable.
However, I will mention that I struggled with the mathematical side of Munroe’s explanations. Personally, I have no experience with physics or mathematics beyond basic algebra, so I can’t say one way or the other if his hypotheses are correct. But they’re surely interesting (and, occasionally, disturbing), and Munroe does a fine job of making his explanations accessible.
He obviously works hard to help his readers understand the mathematics behind his explanations; however, his answers can seem, at best, complicated (read: convoluted)—and, well, confusing. Not that his book isn’t interesting; rather, I might recommend brushing up on scientific vocabulary if the terms transuranic and megapascals are unfamiliar.