Despite not having a strong background in mathematics or science, Randall Munroe’s “What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions” was an entertaining read (even though it may be challenging to ascertain the scientific accuracy of the research and findings), as he answered seemingly-ludicrous or unusual questions such as “How could we build a Lego bridge between London and New York?” and “What would happen if absolutely everyone jumped at the same time?” His answers are also paired with stick-figure illustrations that Munroe is known for, from his popular XKCD web-comic.
Not all questions can be answered though, and instead these “Weird (and Worrying) Questions” were slotted in-between the other explanations for amusement. For instance:
– “How many houses are burned down in the United States every year? What would be the easiest way to increase that number by a significant amount (say, at least 15 per cent)?”, to which a stick-figure is depicted as making a phone call to the police.
– “Is it possible to cry so much you dehydrate yourself?”, to which a stick-figure says “Karl [the person who submitted the question], is everything okay?”
The illustrations are just one reason why “What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions” was a joy to read. The book is organised by questions, so it was convenient reading on-the-go. The footnotes are amusing and provide clues for further personal research, and overall the writing style is engaging. From learning trivia such as how tea cools at the same rate no matter if one stirs with a spoon, dips, or does nothing, to thinking about broader social issues of how we use Facebook or choose to mourn someone who has passed, the book will take a second read – or even more – to understand (more complex issues), but it is an enjoyable read nonetheless.