I confess. While I read Randall Monroe’s comic xkcd regularly, I also Google it regularly to see if someone will explain it to me when I don’t get it. The comic is billed as “A webcomic of romance,
sarcasm, math, and language” and while I get sarcasm and language readily enough, the math jokes sometimes fly right over my head. This book is the same – some of the “what ifs” were easily understandable (Monroe is a good explainer, and its amazing how much his stick figure drawings help) but some made me put the book down and reach for my iPad to look stuff up.
The premise of this book is that people write to Monroe all the time and ask him weird questions, which he tries to answer using actual math and science. This book is a collection of his favorite answers. It’s not the kind of book you necessarily want to plow through in order (though you certainly could, no one will stop you) – I randomly skipped around the subjects that sounded best first. The chapter on the actual force Yoda wields, the one on how high you would have to go before dropping a steak to cook it on reentry, and the one on the odds of finding your soul mate make this book worth the price all by themselves, and the rest are just gravy.
What reads like this book? The webcomic, of course, along with the book version of xkcd. Maybe The Physics of Superheroes by James Kakalios. If you want MORE “what if” fun after you’re done with the book, visit the web version here: http://what-if.xkcd.com/.