Shelf Control #221: What If by Randall Munroe

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Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

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Title: What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions
Author: Randall Munroe
Published: 2014
Length: 303 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Randall Munroe left NASA in 2005 to start up his hugely popular site XKCD ‘a web comic of romance, sarcasm, math and language’ which offers a witty take on the world of science and geeks. It now has 600,000 to a million page hits daily. Every now and then, Munroe would get emails asking him to arbitrate a science debate. ‘My friend and I were arguing about what would happen if a bullet got struck by lightning, and we agreed that you should resolve it . . . ‘ He liked these questions so much that he started up What If.

If your cells suddenly lost the power to divide, how long would you survive?

How dangerous is it, really, to be in a swimming pool in a thunderstorm?

If we hooked turbines to people exercising in gyms, how much power could we produce?

What if everyone only had one soulmate?

When (if ever) did the sun go down on the British empire?

How fast can you hit a speed bump while driving and live?

What would happen if the moon went away?

In pursuit of answers, Munroe runs computer simulations, pores over stacks of declassified military research memos, solves differential equations, and consults with nuclear reactor operators. His responses are masterpieces of clarity and hilarity, studded with memorable cartoons and infographics. They often predict the complete annihilation of humankind, or at least a really big explosion. Far more than a book for geeks, WHAT IF: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions explains the laws of science in operation in a way that every intelligent reader will enjoy and feel much the smarter for having read.

How and when I got it:

I bought a copy as a gift for my husband a couple of years ago.

Why I want to read it:

My husband usually likes weird science facts, but for whatever reason, he just hasn’t felt like actually reading this book. Meanwhile, I think it looks amazing. I also love weird science, and just reading the questions listed in this book makes me laugh. I’ve heard the audiobook is amazing, and I’ve read some excerpts from this book online, so I know I’ll love it once I actually dig in.

What do you think? Would you read this book? 

Please share your thoughts!


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  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
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Have fun!

14 thoughts on “Shelf Control #221: What If by Randall Munroe

    • I’ve really liked the bits and pieces of his work that I’ve come across online, and I’ve heard so many good things about this book! Glad to hear you love it!

    • It definitely sounds right up my alley. I think this is the kind of the book that I just need to leave on my nightstand and read in pieces, in between everything else.

  1. Pingback: Shelf Control #8: Sleepers by Lorenzo Carcaterra (1995) – a hot cup of pleasure

  2. Pingback: Shelf Control #9: Giant by Edna Ferber – a hot cup of pleasure

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