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Review: What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe

4 Stars

I hate math.  I hate science.  Mostly because I don’t understand them enough to really have a higher opinion of either subject.  That and I’m really, really bad at them!  But this book actually made me take another look and have a grudging respect for how cool science and math can actually be.  I found myself laughing out loud at many of the questions and the hilarious responses to these questions.

Can you swim in a pool where they store spent fuel rods from a nuclear power plant?  Surprisingly, the answer is yes…as long as you stay close to the surface.  And even more surprisingly, the water actually has a lower radioactive level than the level that we are dosed with on a daily basis by just walking around the surface of the Earth.  Though the answer given to him by a friend who works in a nuclear reactor made me nearly spit out my drink.

Can you build a periodic wall of elements?  Made out of cube shaped bricks where each brick was made of the corresponding element.  This one had me giggling from nearly the beginning.  I remember memorizing that stupid table of elements that I couldn’t pronounce and had never heard of.  I didn’t know what half of them were or what they did.  But to see what each element can do, especially when you put them in contact with other elements.  Let me just give you one word of wisdom: Do not build the seventh row.

Added in are Weird (and Worrying) Questions from the What If? inbox.  Some of these questions are absolutely hilarious but at the same time, incredibly frightening.  You have to ask yourself, what kind of a person spends their time dreaming up questions like: How fast would a human have to run in order to be cut in half at the bellybutton by a cheese-cutting wire?  This is not the sort of person I want to have sitting next to me on the bus!

Added into each story are hilarious drawings.  The author is also the mind behind a popular web comic, so the drawings and little quotes really add another dimension to the question and answers.  And the answers are backed by real science.  There is an extensive reference section at the end of the book.  The footnotes to each story are also pretty hilarious.

I would easily recommend this to geeks and non geeks alike.  You don’t have to understand or even like science and math to appreciate this book.  It’s a lot of fun and I actually learned a thing or two.  Not that I can do much with that knowledge…but I’m just happy to have another perspective on two of my worst subjects during school!

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