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

 

The author has not studied to become a cartoonist and neither is he a particularly gifted artist, but in 2006 he left his job as a robot manufacturer at NASA to devote himself to drawing his web-comic strips called ‘XKCD’.

You could think that he is crazy...but Randall Munroe’s popular science blog What if...? (www.xkcd.com) now has almost a million page hits daily, and the International Astronomical Union has given Munroe’s name to an asteroid, the 4942 Munroe, large enough to cause a mass extinction if it hits the Earth.

Why? Essentially, because Munroe is a formidable communicator and an excellent populariser.
“My friend and I were arguing about what would happen if a bullet got struck by lightning, and we agreed that you should resolve it…” He liked these questions so much that he started up What If...? Over the years, he asked his audience to send him all the most absurd and improbable questions that Munroe’s followers had on their minds. By his stylized comics, mainly dedicated to science and technology, and a simple and funny language, Munroe provides detailed and documented answers to questions which range from the absolutely absurd to simply bizarre.

What If...? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions is the title of the book that collects the most hilarious and popular questions that Munroe has accumulated over the years through its website, such as:

· What would happen to the Earth if the Sun suddenly switched off?
· If someone’s DNA suddenly vanished, how long would that person last?
· What would happen if the Earth and all terrestrial objects suddenly stopped spinning, but the atmosphere retained its velocity?
· How fast can you hit a speed bump while driving and live?
· What would happen if you made a periodic table out of the cube-shaped bricks, where each brick was made of the corresponding element?
· What would happen if everybody on Earth jumped, everyone landing on the ground at the same instant?
· When (if ever) did the sun set on the British Empire?

Trying to find the answers, Munroe conducted computer simulations, consulted research notes, contacted specialised operators, googled odd aspects about animals, even measured with a stopwatch the time of Star Wars scenes... in brief, any reliable source that helped him to find a possible and plausible answer. His arguments are clear and full of humour, but always scientifically correct.
Reading Munroe’s book, for example, you can discover that throwing a baseball close to the speed of light could raze some neighbourhoods, that a mole of moles might choke the planet under a blanket of flesh and that Yoda may use the Force to recharge an electric Smart.

Full of educational information for anyone who loves to think hypothetically, What if...? is far more than a book for geeks and explains the laws of science in operation in a way that every intelligent reader will enjoy and feel much smarter for having read.

Written by Alessandro Volpino

 

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