“What If?” – Bookcast #48

What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions (2014) by Randall Munroe

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Overview of “What If?”

  • A very brief description of “What If?”
    • Randall Munroe’s webcomic about science, technology, language, and love has a large and passionate following. Every week millions of fans of Munroe’s stick figures visit xkcd.com … and many of them ask him a lot of strange questions. For example, what if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90 percent the speed of light? How fast can you hit a speed bump while driving and live? If there was a robot apocalypse, how long would humanity last? This book is a compilation of his most popular questions and answers – complimented by his signature xkcd comics.
  • What Munroe sets out to do / Purpose of the book
    • In pursuit of answers to reader’s questions, Munroe runs computer simulations, pores over stacks of declassified military research memos, solves differential equations, and consults with nuclear reactor operators. His responses are masterpieces of clarity and hilarity. They often predict the complete annihilation of humankind, or at least a really big explosion. 
  • The intended audience of “What If?” / Who will benefit most
    • People who love science
    • People who love learning
    • People who enjoy thinking about how and why the world works
    • People who want to become better problem solvers
    • People who love comics
    • People who want to spend time listening to someone who is really smart and really cool
  • Who probably WON’T like this book?
    • People who think hypothetical questions are unnecessary
    • People who don’t care how or why the world works
    • People who hate science and math
    • People who don’t like stick figures
  • How does this book specifically benefit Men? 
    • As a man, people are always going to be asking us why things happen the way they do. The world is a complicated and challenging place and much of what is happening is overwhelming to people. Books like ‘What If?’ help Men to hone our problem solving skills and help us to make better choices. Plus Men need a good sense of humor and xkcd and Randall Munroe is hilarious!
  • Is this book Easy, Average or Difficult to read? / How long is it?
    • Easy to follow, but the math/physics/chemistry/etc can get very challenging when Munroe breaks down the science behind the answers. Thankfully, you can always skip over the dense math stuff and just read the summaries. And of course there’s always the comics! 
    • 321 pages, Audiobook: 6 hrs, 36mins
  • What are the overall book reviews? Is the book well-known? Popular? Significant?
    • Amazon Books: 29,172 Ratings – 4.6 Stars
      • Kindle Ranking:
      • #7 in Science & Scientists Humor
      • #15 in Physics (Kindle Store)
      • #34 in Trivia (Books)
    • Audible: 13,396, 4.5 stars
      • Audible Ranking:
      • #123 in Physics 
      • #246 in Trivia
      • #320 in Biological Sciences
  • Book-To-Movie Translation 
    • It’s probably a good thing a movie version of “What If?” doesn’t exist. In pretty much every scenario the world ends!

Bio of Randall Munroe

  • Munroe is an American cartoonist, author, and engineer best known as the creator of the webcomic xkcd. 
  • Munroe was born in Easton, Pennsylvania, and his father has worked as an engineer and marketer.
  • He was a fan of comic strips in newspapers from an early age, starting off with Calvin and Hobbes (Jay’s personal fav comic)
  • Graduated in 2006 with a degree in physics.
  • Worked as a contract programmer and roboticist for NASA at the Langley Research Center, before and after his graduation with a physics degree. 
  • He started xkcd in 2005 and began posting webcomics. The popularity of his site exploded and in late 2006, he left NASA and moved to Boston to focus on webcomics full time. By 2007 xkcd.com was getting up to 70million hits per month!
  • Munroe enables free use of all xkcd comics under the Creative Commons license and makes his money primarily from selling xkcd branded merchandise (several thousand t-shirts/month plus other items)
  • In addition to writing and drawing, he also does open-source programming projects, gives lectures around the country (including at Google) and makes science-based charts that are used in textbooks and newspapers. He also does kite photography (to clarify: photos from kites, not of kites)
  • Munroe has published five books to date:
    • xkcd: volume 0
    • What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions. 
    • Thing Explainer
    • How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems
    • What If? 2: Additional Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions

Breakdown of Themes in “What If?”

  • Science Is Fun
  • Changing almost anything affects almost everything
  • Periodic Wall of the Elements p35
  • Soul mates p23
  • Spent Fuel Pool p10
  • Lego bridge p222

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"What If?" - Bookcast #48 1

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