What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions

Randall Munroe

2014


One of the best science books of all time.

Really? Well, yes, actually. It's exactly what you'd expect from the writer of xkcd : hilariously funny, critically insightful, and quite awesomely clever. And within this rubric, Randall Monroe introduces some serious scientific method and shows how to apply theory to practice. It really doesn't matter that the practice is absurd: in fact it helps, by making the problems engaging in a way that real life (and, more importantly, exam questions) all too often fail to be.

I was sold on the book from the first question (Q: "What would happen if the earth and all terrestrial objects suddenly stopped spinning but the atmosphere retained its velocity?" A: "Nearly everyone would die. Then things would get interesting."), but that's only the start. Monroe manages to explain DNA inheritance through the medium of Dungeons & Dragons character tables, the core problems in rocketry (fuel has weight), and the unexpected dangers of parsnips (they can cause delayed-action chemical burns).

This is a book to be read by every computer scientist, physicist, and mathematician, and other scientist; by everyone who's ever aspired to be one of the above; and by everyone who may encounter a small child asking questions. That about cover it.

(And if you have access to a hypersonic wind tunnel, I'll bring the steak and a video camera.)

Finished on Sun, 02 Nov 2014 10:34:17 -0800.   Rating 5/5.