Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Book Review: What If?

 

“What If?” by Randall MunroeAs a child, the author would constantly ask his parents odd questions. They indulged and encouraged him, setting him on a lifetime path of curiosity, using the mathematics and physics he learned in the course of obtaining a degree in physics and working in robotics at NASA to answer whatever popped into his head. After creating the tremendously successful Web comic xkcd.com, readers began to ask him the kinds of questions he’d mused about himself. He began a feature on xkcd.com: “What If?” to explore answers to these questions. This book is a collection of these questions, some previously published on-line (where you can continue to read them at the previous link), and some only published here. The answers to questions are interspersed with “Weird (and Worrying) Questions from the What If? Inbox,” some of which are reminiscent of my own Titanium Cranium mailbox. The book abounds with the author’s delightful illustrations. Here is a sample of the questions dealt with. I’ve linked the first to the online article to give you a taste of what’s in store for you in the book.

Main belt asteroid 4942 Munroe is named after the author.

While the hardcover edition is expensive for material most of which can be read on the Web for free, the Kindle edition is free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

Munroe, Randall. What If? New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2014. ISBN 978-0-544-27299-6.

Randall Munroe talks “What If?” at Google in September 2014.

There are 21 comments.

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  1. Percival Thatcher
    PercivalJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    John Walker: Is it possible to build a jetpack using downward firing machine guns?

    It might be possible, but you are going to annoy the hell out of the neighbors.

    • #1
    • November 15, 2015, at 1:43 PM PST
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  2. Percival Thatcher
    PercivalJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I thought that this was going to be about the What If? that I read back in 1999. That one was military history counterfactuals.

    It was a pretty good read. This one looks interesting too.

    • #2
    • November 15, 2015, at 1:47 PM PST
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  3. Judge Mental Member

    John Walker: Is it possible to build a jetpack using downward firing machine guns?

    Are you familiar with the Orion program using atom bombs for propulsion? I only learned it from Footfall by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.

    • #3
    • November 15, 2015, at 1:51 PM PST
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  4. John Walker Contributor
    John Walker

    Judge Mental: Are you familiar with the Orion program using atom bombs for propulsion?

    Yes. There is an excellent book by George Dyson, son of Freeman Dyson (who worked on Project Orion), about it: Project Orion: The True Story of the Atomic Spaceship.

    • #4
    • November 15, 2015, at 1:55 PM PST
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  5. Amy Schley, Longcat Shrinker Moderator

    I have this one. I remain annoyed that despite the cover image, “what if you dropped a T-Rex in a Sarlaac pit?” was not answered.

    • #5
    • November 15, 2015, at 2:06 PM PST
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  6. The Reticulator Member

    John Walker: Is it possible to build a jetpack using downward firing machine guns?

    I like that not only does it explain things, but it doesn’t stop explaining.

    • #6
    • November 15, 2015, at 2:06 PM PST
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  7. Percival Thatcher
    PercivalJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle used the atomic bomb drive in their novel Footfall. Great read.

    EDIT: Nuts, JM. That is why I need to refresh before posting.

    • #7
    • November 15, 2015, at 2:10 PM PST
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  8. Randy Webster Member

    Judge Mental:

    John Walker: Is it possible to build a jetpack using downward firing machine guns?

    Are you familiar with the Orion program using atom bombs for propulsion? I only learned it from Footfall by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.

    I learned about it the same way.

    • #8
    • November 15, 2015, at 2:11 PM PST
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  9. Judge Mental Member

    Percival:Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle used the atomic bomb drive in their novel Footfall. Great read.

    “WHAM! WHAM! WHAM! God was knocking on the door, and he wanted in bad.”

    • #9
    • November 15, 2015, at 2:12 PM PST
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  10. Hank Rhody, Freelance Philosop… Contributor

    Project Orion has got to be the second coolest project. After Excalibur of course.

    • #10
    • November 16, 2015, at 5:18 AM PST
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  11. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    I can attest — the cost aside — the hardback makes for a wonderful Christmas present, having both given and received one last year.

    I plan on giving at least a few more this coming season.

    • #11
    • November 16, 2015, at 6:32 AM PST
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  12. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    John Walker: If every person on Earth aimed a laser pointer at the Moon at the same time, would it change color?

    laser_pointer_more_powerI’ve been meaning to add this to my daily parlance.

    • #12
    • November 16, 2015, at 6:35 AM PST
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  13. Vance Richards Member
    Vance RichardsJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I remember the old SNL doing “What If Eleanor Roosevelt Could Fly?”

    • #13
    • November 16, 2015, at 6:48 AM PST
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  14. She Reagan
    SheJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Thank you for finding a Christmas gift for a Mr She! He’ll find this very enjoyable. He likes hard copy, so I’m going to suck it up and buy the book, in the sure knowledge that Grandpa and his seven-year old granddaughter perusing some of these answers together will make it well worth the price.

    It’s hard to find good gifts for him. Keep the ideas coming!

    • #14
    • November 16, 2015, at 6:59 AM PST
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  15. Jeffery Shepherd Member

    On hitting a baseball thrown at 90% speed of light – If you made contact I’m pretty sure your bat would break.

    • #15
    • November 16, 2015, at 7:17 AM PST
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  16. Hank Rhody, Freelance Philosop… Contributor

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:I can attest — the cost aside — the hardback makes for a wonderful Christmas present, having both given and received one last year.

    I plan on giving at least a few more this coming season.

    Huh. Usually I get the order backwards.

    • #16
    • November 16, 2015, at 7:45 AM PST
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  17. John Walker Contributor
    John Walker

    Jeffery Shepherd:On hitting a baseball thrown at 90% speed of light – If you made contact I’m pretty sure your bat would break.

    In a manner of speaking….

    Relativistic baseball pitch

    (Image credit: Cartoon by Randall Munroe from the on-line edition of What If? #1.)

    • #17
    • November 16, 2015, at 7:58 AM PST
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  18. Derringdoo Inactive

    Vance Richards:I remember the old SNL doing “What If Eleanor Roosevelt Could Fly?”

    And “What if Napolean had had a B-52 at Waterloo?

    • #18
    • November 16, 2015, at 9:39 PM PST
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  19. Titus Techera Contributor

    John Walker:

    Jeffery Shepherd:On hitting a baseball thrown at 90% speed of light – If you made contact I’m pretty sure your bat would break.

    In a manner of speaking….

    Relativistic baseball pitch

    (Image credit: Cartoon by Randall Munroe from the on-line edition of What If? #1.)

    A careful reading of official Major League Baseball Rule 6.08(b) suggests that in this situation, the batter would be considered “hit by pitch”, and would be eligible to advance to first base.

    That first base in the sky?

    • #19
    • November 16, 2015, at 9:52 PM PST
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  20. Judge Mental Member

    Titus Techera:

    John Walker:

    Jeffery Shepherd:On hitting a baseball thrown at 90% speed of light – If you made contact I’m pretty sure your bat would break.

    In a manner of speaking….

    Relativistic baseball pitch

    (Image credit: Cartoon by Randall Munroe from the on-line edition of What If? #1.)

    A careful reading of official Major League Baseball Rule 6.08(b) suggests that in this situation, the batter would be considered “hit by pitch”, and would be eligible to advance to first base.

    That first base in the sky?

    I think that rule assumes they are able to locate the batter.

    • #20
    • November 16, 2015, at 10:02 PM PST
    • Like
  21. MeandurΦ Member
    MeandurΦJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I bought it on kindle the day it was released. Great book.

    • #21
    • November 16, 2015, at 10:13 PM PST
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