RogerBW's Blog

What If?, Randall Munroe 03 November 2014

The author of the webcomic xkcd works out back-of-the-envelope answers to odd scientific questions.

Writing this review seems somewhat pointless. If you're at all interested in this sort of thing, you've probably already read What If? on the web and may even have bought the book. But just in case you're an exception, and because I promised myself I'd write a review of everything I read…

First of all, for readers of the web version, there's a reasonable amount of new material here (I recall without citation a claim of 51%, and that seems plausible). There are quite a few full articles, and twelve pages of "Weird (and Worrying) Questions from the What If? Inbox" (such as "What is the total nutritional value (calories, fat, vitamins, minerals, etc.) of the average human body?"). Most, but not all, of the image title text from the web-published articles is included as notes or captions. I'm not sorry to have bought it.

If you don't read the web version, well, that's the easiest way to get a taste for the sort of material you'll find here. Munroe selects from questions submitted by readers, such as "What would happen if the Earth and all terrestrial objects suddenly stopped spinning, but the atmosphere retained its velocity?", and answers them in an informal style with rough but well-researched calculations, leavened by sketched cartoons.

This sort of enquiring thought is something of which I meet far too little in real life, and I'm encouraged that the book is apparently doing well. It's not that I need to know the results of a global windstorm; it's that I'm interested in the means by which those results are derived, and the mental tools in use. The book is not about relativistic baseballs or illuminating the moon with laser pointers; it's about having the mental agility to answer questions of that kind by looking at existing science and building from it.

If I had young relatives who were reading but who hadn't yet had inquiry and creativity stamped out of them by school, I'd send them copies of this book.

[Buy this at Amazon] and help support the blog.

Comments on this post are now closed. If you have particular grounds for adding a late comment, comment on a more recent post quoting the URL of this one.

Tags 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s 2010s 3d printing action aeronautics aikakirja anecdote animation anime army astronomy audio tech base commerce battletech beer boardgaming bookmonth chain of command children chronicle church of no redeeming virtues cold war comedy computing contemporary cornish smuggler cosmic encounter coup cycling dead of winter doctor who documentary drama driving drone ecchi espionage essen 2015 essen 2016 essen 2017 existential risk falklands war fandom fantasy film firefly first world war flash point food garmin drive gazebo geodata gurps gurps 101 harpoon historical history horror hugo 2014 hugo 2015 hugo 2016 hugo 2017 hugo-nebula reread in brief avoid instrumented life kickstarter learn to play leaving earth linux mecha museum mystery naval non-fiction one for the brow opera perl photography podcast politics powers prediction privacy project woolsack pyracantha quantum rail ranting raspberry pi reading reading boardgames social real life restaurant reviews romance rpg a day rpgs science fiction scythe second world war security shipwreck simutrans south atlantic war squaddies stationery steampunk stuarts suburbia superheroes suspense television the resistance thirsty meeples thriller tin soldier torg toys trailers travel vietnam war war wargaming weather wives and sweethearts writing about writing x-wing young adult
Special All book reviews, All film reviews
Produced by aikakirja v0.1