What If? – Randall Munroe

Have you ever lay awake on a chilly October night wondering what would happen if every person on earth aimed a laser pointer at the Moon? Or how many humans a rampaging T-Rex would need to eat in a day? If the answer is yes, then you’re in luck: former NASA employee turned comic writer Randall Munroe has the answer to both those questions and more in his collection of Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions.

Armed only with mathematics and his own illustrations, Munroe attempts to tackle only the weirdest and most wonderful questions floating around the internet, fuelled by some of the most frequently asked questions on his website XKCD.

In his opening statement, Munroe addresses the age-old saying that there is no such thing as a stupid question. He certainly agrees, whilst acknowledging that “trying to thoroughly answer a stupid question can take you to some pretty interesting places.” What If is the perfect example of that philosophy. Not only are the questions absurd, but combining his amusing comics, a humorous writing style, and serious scientific methodology, Munroe takes you on a  hilarious (and geeky) journey through the landscape of biology, chemistry, and physics. The reader is left constantly subject to outbursts of laughter, lingering doubts concerning the sanity of the human race, and an ever-growing fascination with the way our world and the universe works.

The questions concern everything from time machines to the plausibility of building a LEGO bridge across the Atlantic. Some of the suggestions are definitely not safe to try at home, and if you’re thinking about building a periodic table made out of the corresponding elements, for the sake of all of Edinburgh please don’t! There are also questions of general interest, regarding love and the consequences of all of us having a random soul mate. Unfortunately for the romantics amongst us, the gist is that we would all be very lonely.

Some questions, believe it or not, are too absurd even for Munroe to answer, making it instead into the “Weird (and Worrying) Questions” section. It only takes a quick glance for one to understand why it is best to leave them unanswered. After all, it is hard to imagine more than one reason why one would want to know the easiest way to increase the number of houses burned down annually by at least 15 per cent.

Though science geeks will be the first to acknowledge Munroe’s greatness, even people suffering from a chronic hatred towards anything concerned with math will find the humour and absurdity of What If? hard to resist.

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