What If? by Randall Munroe


Rate: 3.5/5


Medium: Audiobook


Overall (No Spoilers): A week or so ago, when discussing books at work (a frequent topic), a coworker suggested that I read What If?, as with my science background I would likely enjoy Munroe’s thorough, detail filled, yet funny answers to random scientific queries. Perhaps it would be appropriate to first detail a bit of background regarding the author to understand the context of What If?.  Munroe was a NASA engineer prior to starting xkcd, where he creates stick figure comics. Other than comics, xkcd also features a What If? section where readers can post random hypothetical questions to Munroe. For example, currently on the What If? website you’ll find this question from Madeline Cooper,

“I used to work on a fisheries crew where we would use an electro-fisher backpack to momentarily stun small fish (30 – 100 mm length) so we could scoop them up with nets to identify and measure them. The larger fish tended to be stunned for slightly longer because of their larger surface area but I don’t imagine this relationship would be maintained for very large animals. Could you electrofish for a blue whale? At what voltage would you have have to set the e-fisher?”

 I won’t spoil the answer for you, so click here if you would like to find out Munroe’s answer to the aforementioned question.  What If? (the book) is a compilation of questions and answers that Munroe has provided over the years on his website, similar format to the example shown.  Additionally, he breaks up his answers by including some submitted questions that are classified in the ‘weird and worrying’ category.  While these questionable inquires are fodder for pondering who and why they came up with said questions, Munroe wisely elects to not answer. The result is a dense, yet entertaining read with fascinating scientific answers, intermingled with the right amount of humor. This is a book that would likely be more appropriately read in the physical form as some of the answers quickly would go over my head, resulting in rewinding the audiobook many, many times. Moreover, supporting the physical book is the assumption that most, if not all of the questions were accompanied with a comic, which is unfortunately lost in the audiobook format.  Overall, What If? was an amusing read, both from the interwoven humor to the clever approaches when answering hypothetical problems, and will be thoroughly enjoyed by anyone with an analytical mind.


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19 comments

  1. Doesn’t sound like something for me. So I thank you for the review. Nothing against the book. But after reading Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, I realize some books and I are just not meant for each other.

    Liked by 2 people

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