Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Book Review: What if?

And so it begins, the first book of the new series. To be fair, this isn't a cover to cover read. It's more of a coffee table/toilet kind of book. So, I'm giving my impressions from having flipped through it and reading random parts over the last week. It's written by the author of the popular xkcd webcomic, Randall Munroe. What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions is perfect for any inquisitive person you know and all nerds will love it. I received a copy at one of those Christmas party gift exchanges this year, and I must say it's one of the best gifts I've ever had from that genre of gift giving. Let's just say, it's the MythBusters equivalence of science applied to hypothetical questions.

All of the questions tackled are from online readers that were sent in Dear Abby style. He's answered tons of questions like this on his blog, but he's curated the most interesting together in one place. Munroe use to work for NASA and has had a fascination with math and science since he was a kid. The combination of intellect, science, and humor land in the sweet spot of highly entertaining reading. I can't decide if my favorite part is the absurdity of some of the questions, the truly thoughtful answer to said absurd questions, or the cheesy drawings that illustrate the answers. Either way, it's a very interesting read and I highly recommend it. Below are some of my favorite questions so far:

Q:How many Lego bricks would it take to build a bridge capable of carrying traffic from London to New York? A: The answer is explained in great detail over about 6 pages, utilizing 9 different illustrations.

Q: What if everyone in Great Britain went to one of the coasts and started paddling? Could they move the island at all? A: No.

Q: What would happen if everyone on Earth stood as close to each other as they could and jumped, everyone landing on the ground at the same instant? A: Nothing, but Munroe then goes on for a few pages expounding on the chaos that would come from everyone on earth being gathered in such a small space.

A few other questions that are worth highlighting:
  • 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 NYC?
  • What would happen if someone's DNA vanished?

1 comment:

Greg said...

Shout out to the Rice's for hosting the Christmas party and for bringing the book in the first place! 10 years of great Christmas Merry-making!