|Houghton Mifflin Harcourt|
Randall Monroe, creator of the webcomic xkcd, answers a variety of scientific (and often absurd) questions he has received via his website - including questions such as:
- What would happen if you made a periodic table out of the actual elements?
- Is it possible to build a jetpack using machine guns?
- What would happen if you took a swim in a spent nuclear fuel pool?
- What are the results of a earthquake that measures 15 on the Richter scale?
- What happens to the last artificial light if humans disappeared?
I enjoyed Monroe's book. It is absolutely hilarious, combining absurdity with comedy - and, yes, real scientific inquiry.
Although the questions may be completely, off-the-wall crazy - or, you know, dangerously stupid to try - Monroe makes a sincere attempt to give an answer. The questions may not always make sense, the answers can be catastrophic, but the author makes a valid case for his explanation and throws in a touch of wry, biting humor that makes his book funny, informative, and enjoyable.
Monroe also spices up his book with illustrations. Stick figures, to be precise. The illustrations are rudimentary, but they have an incredible range of flexibility, conveying precisely what Monroe seeks to show his readers. It makes What If? a little more interesting, and a lot funnier.
Unlike Monroe, 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 Monroe does a fine job of making his explanations accessible.
He obviously works hard to help his readers understand; however, the science behind his answers is, at best, complicated (read: convoluted) - and, well, confusing. Not that his book won't be interesting if you decide to pick it up. Rather, I might recommend brushing up on your scientific vocabulary if you don't know what transuranic or megapascals means.
Somehow, the questions that Monroe answers always seem to end up with catastrophic consequences such as nuclear explosions, death, planetary destruction, species extinction, and worse. I mean, it's rather depressing.