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What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions Hardcover – Sep 2 2014

4.6 out of 5 stars 123 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; First Edition edition (Aug. 19 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0544272994
  • ISBN-13: 978-0544272996
  • Product Dimensions: 17.8 x 3 x 22.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 885 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars 123 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #410 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

Review

What If? maintains a delightfully free-wheeling tone throughout, especially when complicated calculations lead to whimsical results… Despite all the hard facts and gigantic numbers, it never feels like a textbook-and you don't have to be a rocket scientist to enjoy it. A" -Entertainment Weekly



"Catchy and approachable… There's plenty of scientific rigor behind his elaborate explanations but he punctuates them with sly humor and winningly primitive cartoon diagrams… A cut above so many popular science and technology books." - NPR.org

"Consistently fascinating and entertaining… Munroe leavens the hard science with whimsical touches… An illuminating handbook of methods of reasoning." - Wall Street Journal



"It's fun to watch as Munroe tackles each question and examines every possible complication with nerdy and methodical aplomb, his distinctive scribblings providing clever running commentary of peanut-gallery jokes as his train of thought (sometimes) happily derails. The delightfully demented 'What If?' is the most fun you can have with math and science, short of becoming your own evil genius… We feel the tug of Munroe's playful yet existentially-tinged worldview, and all that geek logic and number-crunching becomes unexpectedly poignant." - Boston Globe

"Munroe has hit on a wonderful form of science and engineering communication that can do so much-extolling the value of analytical thinking, examining data, and doing back-of-the-envelope calculations-while entertaining readers at the same time… an incredibly fun book with quirky, hand-drawn pictures." -American Scientist



"[What If?] has solved my annual birthday-present and holiday-gift dilemmas for a large group of people… What makes Munroe's work so fantastic is a combination of two elements: his commitment to trying to answer even the weirdest question with solid science, and his undeniable sense of humor." -Huffington Post



"Munroe takes inane, useless and often quite pointless questions asked by real humans (mostly sent to him through his website), and turns them into beautiful expositions on the impossible that illuminate the furthest reaches, almost to the limits, of the modern sciences..The answers are all illustrated with XKCD's trademark stick figures… and these are eminently approachable." -Newsweek



"What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions includes old favorites, new inquiries and the mix of expert research and accessible wit that has made Munroe a favorite among both geeks and laymen."-TIME



"Loaded with the same dry wit and blank-faced stick figures that populate xkcd, What If? is that rare book that will have you laughing as you learn just how a mass extinction might unfold." - Discover

"Wide-ranging and strangely poignant… This book is tons of fun… Munroe's spiffy essays do tend to resemble the sort of lectures that cool professors give on the first day of class… It's quality entertainment." - Washington Independent Review of Books



"Munroe's brilliant What-If? column-which features scientifically rigorous, utterly absurd answers to ridiculous hypotheticals-has been on the bestseller lists since it was announced in March. Today, it hits shelves and: It. Is. A. Triumph." -BoingBoing



"What If? is a fast, engrossing read… The charm of What If? lies in the ease Munroe has jumping past intensely interesting conclusions and onto his next thought, tangent, or consequence. It's as if Munroe is a unseen stage technician pulling back the curtain - the answers were always there, we just needed someone who knew how to show us. Even he seems surprised at what he finds." - Nerdist

"Those who enjoyed the irreverent style of Allie Brosh's best-selling memoir, Hyperbole and a Half , will enjoy Munroe's serious and silly musings on everything from science to romance." - Library Journal


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About the Author

Randall Munroe is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller What If? , the science question-and-answer blog What If, and the popular webcomic xkcd. A former NASA roboticist, he left the agency in 2006 to draw comics on the Internet full-time, supporting himself through the sale of xkcd t-shirts, prints, posters, and books. He likes candlelight dinners and long walks on the beach. Very long walks. Lots of people say they like long walks on the beach, but then they get out on the beach and after just an hour or two, they say they're getting tired. Bring a tent. He lives in Massachusetts.


Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
What an interesting subject for a book (and blog), Randall really knows what he's talking about and dives deep into subjects while pretty much always keeping the reader interested and trying to keep it at a level where almost anyone can understand. Often you wish that he would keep going and only in a few instances are the answers less interesting then you imagined. For anyone interested in science this is a great read and I'll be sure to check out xkcd also.
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By George Poirier TOP 50 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on Oct. 1 2014
Format: Hardcover
First of all, I was not familiar with the author’s webcomic xkcd. Consequently, I did not know what to expect.

The book’s format is as follows: as indicated in the subtitle, a rather “absurd hypothetical question” is posed and the author attempts a “serious scientific answer”. Included are many cartoon drawings and a healthy dose of humour. I found the scientific explanations quite entertaining and lighthearted. A few very simple formulas are included in some sections, but these seem to be mainly for illustration purposes because some of the formulas are inconsistent in the units that are used, e.g., see page 85. Consequently a neophyte wanting to learn how to calculate should perhaps look elsewhere. Personally, as a hard core science/math enthusiast, I would have preferred more formulas and mathematical details; however, I think that the author’s main purpose was to use hand-waving physical arguments rather than mathematical rigour, in view of the types of questions involved.

Despite the book’s dimensions, i.e., relatively oversized with almost 300 pages of main text, it turned out for me to be a rather quick read. The reasons for this are several-fold; in particular, there are a great many cartoon drawings occupying much space, the posed questions are in very large font and the writing style is particularly friendly, accessible, lively and engaging, making the book hard to put down. Although any interested reader could certainly enjoy this book, science enthusiasts may find it the most engrossing due to the types of questions that the author attempts to answer.
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Format: Hardcover
I bought this one on the day it came out, because I loved the "What If?" posts on xkcd. For those who haven't read them, they're a delightfully nerdy approach to absurd questions, usually ending with creative, and extremely scientifically accurate, ways of blowing up or otherwise killing everything in the general vicinity. Michael Bay, take note.

However, because I've read them, the book itself was less impressive. The vast majority of the content here was recycled from the website - the "Weird and Worrying Questions from the Inbox" pages are funny, but less than a third of the real long-answer questions(18/55) are actually new content, and for the most part, I found them less interesting and more rushed-seeming than the online ones(though there's a few gems). There's some pretty big swathes of the book that a website reader will just want to skip, and bigger swathes than in previous examples I've seen of websites making books. If you are a nerd who somehow hasn't read it, you need this book. If you have, though, it's pretty expensive for a mere ~100 pages of new content.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a good book, but everything in it is from the what if xkcd website. I guess I was hoping for some original content given that I dropped $20 on the book. I will say that it in the short time I've had it, it has become my most popular coffee table book among my guests. Everyone that picks it up can't seem to help but read 2-3 articles before putting it back down again.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Ok, so I'm not usually generous enough to give a book 5 stars, but if you are in any small way a generally curious person I recommend this for you! The author's cynical and humorous writing adds a quirky humour to interesting scientific explanations. The format of the book (individual answers to individual questions) made this book a fun read to enjoy over a coffee with a friend. I learned a ton of obscure but interesting facts, but even moreso laughed out loud!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The book is incredibly fun and easy to read. It allows me to do quick readings between 10 and 20 minutes, it makes me laugh with every situation (every Question), and it provides material to talk about the day after at work :D

If you're not sure if you should buy it or not, try the name of the book plus author on Google, and you will find his blog, which has exactly the same structure. If you like his blog, you'll definitely love the book :)

I personally see no reasons for you not to buy this book
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I have never read xkcd before picking up this book. Maybe a few comics here and there over FB but I've never actually perused his work. This is a fun and informative read and I found myself bewildered and awed by the authors knowledge and I enjoyed his sense of humour. If you want to know what would happen if a baseball were pitched near the speed of light or how a submarine would fare in space, you need to read this.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
What If is written by a former NASA scientist. He employs physics, chemistry, mathematics and human biology to answer ridiculous most people have never thought of asking or even wondered about.
It is a book filled with much humour, funny stick figures and hilarious detailed answers to the questions. I had to read it one or two chapters at a time to keep my brain from exploding. I could imagine Sheldon and his gang from the Big Bang Theory spending countless hours checking on the accuracy of the very convincing answers. Highly entertaining.
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