Book Review: What If?

There’s a reason this gem of a book is sitting on top of the New York Times book list these days. What if? (Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions) by Randall Monroe (he, of xkcd comic fame) had me laughing, and thinking, and wondering about the world in new ways. The premise is that, at Monroe’s website, folks submit scientifically based absurd questions and he tackles some of them from a scientific standpoint.

The clash of serious and absurd, and Monroe’s engaging voice and comic interpretations, makes for an incredible read. Some of the issues that he tackles here include: could you swim in a pool where they cool spent nuclear fuel rods? Or what would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90 percent the speed of light? How about if you drained all the oceans on Earth? What would this place look like then? (interestingly enough, this is a question one of my won students asked me the other day as we were discussing the oceans. I need to bring this chapter in for her). Or, could someone really live on an astroid like the Little Prince?

Man, I could go on, but you need to get it yourself. What If? will keep you not only pondering life’s mysteries, but also pondering who the nuts are who come up with these questions (the answer: us.)

Peace (in the questions),

  1. I am listening to it right now. I would love to share/annotate a sound version of this. Hmmmm. I will work on that. The neatest secret that I think the book reveals is that ‘what-if’ scenarios are great for revealing potential unknown unknowns, but…not all of them. Not hardly. The ones they do reveal are almost enough to make us forget that they are only one possible future. I am still trying to decide if this kind of thinking is useful beyond being supremely entertaining (that is likely quite enough for me) or whether is functions as an important critical and creative thinking tool. Anyway, glad we are in the same zeitgeist. BTW, the anti-spam box suggests ‘fiat fuzz’ as its words to prove I am not a bot. Good band name.

  2. i can’t resist. The next antispam words are “buzz nuns”. I wanna be in a band called The Buzz Nuns. I will play the circular saw and wear a strict habit with rosaries for playing the cymbals. Instead of starting a Ramones style 1-2-3-go I would want us to adopt Robert Frost’s poem of the same name, out-out-out-out. (Frost’s poem here: )

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