I’ve been feeling bad about the direction that political attitudes about education and science have taken lately. The outright condemnation of real science can do nothing but harm this country in many ways. That’s why I got a positive boost as soon as I started reading What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe.
What If? is a bona fide humor book written by a science-minded author. The book presents off the wall situations, and Munroe describes what would happen if you take the scenarios to their ultimate conclusions.
Munroe is an Internet sensation in the science and geek communities. He resigned from NASA ten years ago to devote his time to the very popular web comic “XKCD”. The cartoon is an intelligent send up of language, mathematics, romance, and sarcasm. Recently, he started a new section, “What If?”. In my opinion, this is where Munroe has come into his own.
He answers oddball questions from his readers in an intellectual, scientifically accurate, but humorous manner. “What would happen if the Moon went away?” His answers are completely rational and logical. Many of the answers to peculiar questions predict the total demise of humanity. Isn’t tragedy often hilarious?
This is a humor book that does not rely on questionable, gutter humor to get laughs, so it’s quite family friendly. If you enjoy humor of the absurd, you’ll love the book. If you understand mathematics and have a working grasp of the scientific method, you’ll also appreciate the contents. I’m guessing that even dunces will get a kick out of Munroe’s material.
What If? not only lays out the absurd scenarios, Munroe explains, in a layman friendly manner, the scientific laws that affect the situations. He does this without a pandering attitude. I even learned a few things about chemistry by reading the chapter about the Periodic Table of the Elements.
Munroe is a former NASA roboticist from Cambridge, Massachusetts. The International Astronomical Union likes him so much, that they named an asteroid after him. Of course, his asteroid is huge enough that if it ever collided with Earth, a mass extinction event would occur. Besides What If? , he has an earlier book Machine of Death: A Collection of Stories About People Who Know How They Will Die.
( What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe; published 2014 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York; ISBN: 978-0-544-27299-6 }
The Blue Jay of Happiness has a favorite out-take from the book. “There’s no material safety data sheet for astatine. If there were, it would just be the word ‘NO’ scrawled over and over in charred blood.”