From what height would you need to drop a steak for it to be cooked when it hit the ground? If someones DNA suddenly vanished, how long would that person last? Is it possible to build a jetpack using downward firing machine guns? All these questions and more are answered in Randall Munroe’s “‘What if?’ Serious scientific answers to absurd hypothetical questions”.
The title says it all. The book is about taking these unrealistic, crazy creative questions, and scientifically figuring out if it is possible, or what would happen. For example, I’ll use one of my favorite questions answered – “What would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90 percent the speed of light?” I’ll give you the abbreviated answer. The ball would be going 604 million miles per hour. The pitcher would disintegrate. the batter, plate, and catcher would be scooped back toward the backstop while disintegrating. The shell of superheated plasma and x-rays would expand and swallow the whole neighborhood. Everything within about a mile of the ballpark would be a crater. Coool.
You may be wondering how this dude figured out the answers to all of these questions. The author, Randall Munroe, used to be a roboticist for NASA, and is the creator of the online webcomic, xkcd. He quit working for NASA to continue his work in cartooning. He is one lucky guy for pulling that one off. And succeeding.
To make this book, Randall Munroe had people send in questions for him to answer. I really enjoyed this book because I have a love for both science and humor, and this book perfectly balances those subjects. I recommend this book to those with similar interests, because that’s pretty much the whole book. I would also recommend this book to anyone in their early teens, 14-15, up. It can (and definitely should) appeal to teens and adults alike, because I’m 14 and I loved this book. Randall Munroe does a great job of topping off the awesome answers by using his cartoonist skills adding little cartoon stick figures showing what would happen. Here’s the illustration used for the baseball question.
The book isn’t ALL random questions like baseballs going 0.9c.
There are random scientific questions too! (Not that all of the questions aren’t scientific in one way or another). Such as- “What would happen if the Earth and all terrestrial objects stopped spinning, but the atmosphere maintained its velocity?” And- “What would happen if you made a periodic table out of cube-shaped bricks, where each brick was made of the corresponding element?” Both of those questions had really interesting (and of course, humorous) answers.
In conclusion, Randall Munroe’s “What if?” Is a great read for science and comedy lovers of all shapes and sizes (just kidding). I really hope to meet Mr. Munroe some day, as this is most definitely my new favorite book. I truly hope this review has encouraged you to go pick up this fine piece of literature, because you sure would miss out if you didn’t.