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Science is fun! Some of us will wholeheartedly agree with that statement, while others might be more dubious. But did you know that science can be so funny that you risk serious injury from laughter?
Author Randall Munroe is well known in geek circles for his webcomic “XKCD” and his accompanying blog. But with the publication of “What If: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions,” he shot to the top of the bestseller’s list, and suddenly his science-geek humor was accessible to everyone. And I mean everyone because we’ve all been this person at some time in our lives — if not now, then we were a little kid, wanting to know what if, what if, what if about everything.
The premise of the book is simple: People submitted the most ridiculous questions they could think of to Munroe, and he set out to answer them with serious scientific accuracy. And when I say “ridiculous questions,” I mean it.
“What if the Earth suddenly stopped spinning, but the atmosphere didn’t?”
“How many Legos would it take to build a functional traffic bridge from London to New York?” “What if a rainstorm dropped all of its water in a single giant drop?”
“From what height would you need to drop a steak for it to be cooked by the heat of its speed by the time it hit the ground?”
Or one of my favorites, “What if you made a model of the periodic table out of cubes of the actual elements?” (Answer: really, really bad things. Hope you like explosions!)
The best thing is that you don’t need to know any science to enjoy this book. Munroe does all the work for you, doing all the research and giving an answer that is easy to understand and very, very funny. Additionally, his trademark cartoons are scattered throughout the text, providing wry commentary on the answers as he is giving them.
This is science for anyone who has ever enjoyed an episode of “Mythbusters.” This is science that takes casual questions to their logical conclusions and beyond, with hilarious results. I’ve given this book to people ranging from 10 years old to 50-plus and gotten delighted responses from all ages.
If you prefer to listen to your books, “What If” is available as a fantastic audiobook brilliantly read by Wil Wheaton (of “Star Trek” fame), but just be careful where you listen because, “What if a person actually laughed so hard they ran off the road?” is a real question where this book is concerned!
Genevieve Baillie is the extension services librarian at the Wilson County Public Library.