From the creator of the wildly popular webcomic xkcd comes this hilarious and informative book of answers to important questions you probably never thought to ask.
Millions of people visit xkcd.com each week to read Randall Munroe's iconic webcomic. His stick-figure drawings about science, technology, language, and love have a large and passionate following. Fans of xkcd ask Munroe a lot of strange questions. What if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90 percent of the speed of light? How fast can you hit a speed bump while driving and live? If there were a robot apocalypse, how long would humanity last?
In pursuit of answers, 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, complemented by signature xkcd comics. They often predict the complete annihilation of humankind, or at least a really big explosion.
The book features new and never-before-answered questions, along with updated and expanded versions of the most popular answers from the xkcd website. What If? will be required listening for xkcd fans and anyone who loves to ponder the hypothetical.
PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your My Library section along with the audio.
©2014 Randall Munroe (P)2014 Blackstone Audiobook
Only two words needed for this review, MORE PLEASE. If you are a fan of "Myth Busters" or "The Straight Dope" you will love this book. My only possible complaint would be it wasn't long enough, I want more.
I love Wil's reading style he was able to inject just the right amount of sarcasm into the book.
I found this very entertaining, overall. Wheaton did a great job, as is expected with his work. Munroe is a smart guy and funny in a lot of ways. But not being a math or science fellow myself (liberal arts guy), I found a lot of the listen to be shooting way over my head. I would glaze over just a bit. Further, there were a large number of questionable logic leaps, though that judgment is clearly the provence of the author/physicist in charge.
A number of references to the webcomic/website as well- I imagine it translated very well in the print version, but it was essentially useless in the audio.
I liked it. It was funny. It is worth buying (I wouldn't burn a credit on it). Just be aware of the above as you click add to cart.
First of all it's read by Wil Wheaton, awesome! If you're not familiar with who that is then you're probably expecting a completely different book than anything written by Munroe.
As a fan of XKCD I'm all to comfortable with playing along as if I understood the highly mathematical joke I just read. After you hear the whiz of jokes flying over your head enough you kind of go with it. Now imagine a few hours of that and you'll kind of get what this books is like listening to it. While Munroe does an excellent and accurate job (I think it's accurate, if not at least well described) of explaining the "what if" scenarios, the mathematical explanations are lengthy and unless you're accustomed to graduate level physics lectures stands a very good chance of inducing a "zone out" until the scenario returns to a narrative laymen description.
Don't let this deter you from giving it a shot! You'll get the idea of every one of the "what if" scenarios I promise you.
If you like playing around with over-the-top thought experiments and truly strange ideas, with realistic science, this a great book for you.
The best comparison I have is Mary Roach...if you like her works, then you will truly enjoy "What if?"
Wil Wheaton is a great narrator for this book, he captures the geeky science and Randall's wry humor exceedingly well. And I always give kudos to narrators of scienc-y works when they don't stumble over or mispronounce obscure technical words...and he handled it extremely well.
Oh, I loved this audiobook... a great combination of interesting (and sometimes strange) science facts and xkcd-flavored humor. My only complaint: It ended too soon. Highly recommended.
Great prep for an interview at Google. This book poses a wide range of questions, most of which can only be answered in a conceptual fashion using equations few of us are very familiar with. The fun part is when Randall Munroe attaches equations to help the listener understand how to approach an answer. My favorite question: What is the probability of calling someone, saying gesundheit when they said hello, and discovering that they just sneezed. Super narration too.
This book has now made the short list as one of my all-time favorite audio books. It was informative, hilarious, and just downright fun. My wife and I listened to it while on a road trip, and it kept us entertained as if it were a classic novel. Wil Wheaton's narration is absolutely perfect, and actually inspired us to go out and buy the print version of the book (which I also highly recommend).
If you love science, humor, Wil Wheaton, XKCD, and/or the Netherlands -- This is the book for you!
The Netherlands... you'll have to listen and find out :)
Wil Wheaton's narration, in addition to giving it the "nerd cred" it deserves, narrates the book absolutely perfectly. It's the little subtleties like the way he changes his tone for footnotes, or gets excited about blowing up the moon with a super laser. It really brings a book, which otherwise has no characters, to life.
We listened to this while driving. We actually had to stop, and pull over at one point from laughing so hard.
Family father, neuroscientist, and non-fiction addict.
What if we only had a single soul mate. What would the odds be that we actually met that person? Most people realize that the answer is some version of “small.” However, in this book, Munroe tries to calculate an answer, after all, assumptions have been spelled out. For this particular question, the first assumption is that your soulmate is alive at the same time as you - which reduced the pool of potential soul mates from 100 billion to ~10 billion. The next assumption is that we will recognize our soul mate when we see him or her. We can then go on and calculate some preliminary odds based on how many people we tend to look at in our lifetime etc. The answer, in the end, is still just that the odds are very, very small that we will run into our soulmate unless external forces are at work.
This above is just one example out of ~100 questions to which this book provides an answer. Other examples include what would happen if the earth suddenly stopped spinning, but the atmosphere kept moving? What would a mole (6 x 10^23) of moles (the animal) look like, and what would happen to it? What would happen if you had a periodic table with blocks that were actually made up of the elements? Which character in the Star Wars movies has the most power (Is it the Emperor? Yoda? or Luke?).
The author does not hide the fact that he has a wicked sense of humor and that he likes it when things burn, or (better) explode. Indeed, a good proportion of the answers in this book involves the death of a few or a lot of people.
For a science nerd like myself, this was an excellent and funny book. As other reviewers have noted, the mathematics can sometimes be difficult to grasp; however, you usually don’t need to understand the underlying mathematics understand the answer to the different questions. The humor and the fact that you learn lots of facts that are perfect conversation starters (especially if you are a scientist), makes this a thoroughly enjoyable read.
But I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - J.D. Salinger ^(;,;)^
A. Nearly Everyone Would Die!
- Randall Munroe, What If?
There are certain things on this planet that you seemed to do fine without, but as soon as you discover, you can't now do without. Diet Dr. Pepper, David Foster Wallace, dark chocolate covered cherries all fit into this category. So, too, does Randall Munroe. He seems to occupy a space near, but not on, that vacated by Gary Larson when the great Gary Larson stopped drawing the Far Side (January 1, 1995). If you are unimpressed by Gary Larsen or the Far Side or do not know who he is or what I'm talking about, hell man, read no further. This book is not for you. I'm not trying to suggest that Gary Larson and Randall Munroe occupy the same ground. They are very different. Their approach to science is different. Their technique. However, the Venn Diagram of those readers of Gary Larson 20+ years ago would closely resemble those readers of Randall Munroe's xkcd.
They are both worshiped by nerds. They are nerd gods. In this godhead of scientific nerd entertainers also exists Bill Nye. Anyway, these are binary science artists. You either get them and love them or you don't. If you don't, well congrats, I really hope someday you will recognized what you did to our beautiful world by voting for Trump. Bastard.
Anyway, this book. This book is filled with drawings and explanations by Randall Munroe on topics as diverse as:
"Q. What would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90 percent the speed of light?"
"Q. What would happen if you were to gather a mole (unit of measurement) of moles (the small furry critter) in one place?"
"Q. How much Force power can Yoda output?"
"Q. How much Force power can Yoda output?"
"Q. How high can a human throw something?"
Here is the magic of this book, and why it is relevant and important. It is the essentials of science. Science is always jumping into absurd places asking weird questions. Monroe capture the joy of this experience and he integrates the reader into it. He is a translator (like most scientists are) of complex methods into a narrative of explanation. He just takes several absurd, but still logical steps further.
I find his book about one standard deviation better than similar attempts at similar things. I'm thinking of Leyner's books: Why Do Men Have Nipples?: Hundreds of Questions You'd Only Ask a Doctor After Your Third Martini and Why Do Men Fall Asleep After Sex? More Questions You'd Only Ask a Doctor After Your Third Whiskey Sour. Both are using humor and science and the strategy of funky questions. There are a couple differences, that matter. Mark Leyner isn't a scientist. He's a soft postmodernist author that is playing doctor explaining awkward questons. Monroe is a scientist that is using the scientific method and humor to explain absurd, and sometimes practically nonsense questions. While both of these books can be considered humor books, I tend to favor the one written by a scientist who can draw (kinda) dinosaurs and a pyramid of giraffes. Personal preference I guess.
Anyway, if you or anyone in your family is a nerd, or raising a nerd, and enjoy absurdity and funky questions, well, this is almost a perfect book. If not, go ahead and try and to convince me that your vote for Trump isn't going to be considered the beginning of the end of our civilization. You have no soul.
People say I resemble my dog (and vice-versa). He can hear sounds I can't hear, but I'm the one who listens to audiobooks.
If, like me, you enjoy non-fiction that attempts to explain science, history, economics, or what have you to readers who are not fully educated in those fields, and particularly enjoy them in audio format, then you really can't go wrong with What If, the longtime New York Times best seller. The premise is immediately captivating, as expressed in the subtitle:serious scientific answers to absurd hypothetical questions. Like, what would happen if you drained the oceans, or if the sun was suddenly extinguished?
That the answers are not as completely serious as the subtitle suggests is actually a good thing, especially with the incomparable Wil Wheaton reading the droll explanations, leading us to their inevitable punch lines. For example, the answer about the sun is all about the positives that might result in the absence of sunlight, until the punchline -- we couldn't realize those benefits because we would all freeze to death.
Still, the good thing about answering absurd questions in this way is arriving at backhanded explanations of serious scientific subjects, such as the ways the sun can be a detriment, despite being so essential to life. Unfortunately, not every topic is as informative as this best of examples. To be honest, some of the answers, scientifically rigorous though they may be, are actually as silly as the original questions, and do not really impart any useful knowledge.
In the final analysis, I find What If to be consistently entertaining, but not consistently edifying -- I certainly like to be entertained by these kinds of books, but not at the expense of learning something new.
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