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What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  135,615 ratings  ·  8,857 reviews
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 happe ...more
Hardcover, First Edition, 303 pages
Published September 2nd 2014 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Tessa I'd go with the printed copy. There aren't an overwhelming amount of pictures but the pictures are often the punchline.…moreI'd go with the printed copy. There aren't an overwhelming amount of pictures but the pictures are often the punchline.(less)
Edward Taylor My 12 year old would get a kick out of some of it but the science is beyond many adults I know, so caveat emptor! Overall if they can follow the blog …moreMy 12 year old would get a kick out of some of it but the science is beyond many adults I know, so caveat emptor! Overall if they can follow the blog or even just enjoy some silly absurdities, than it is not too bad. I recommend trying the blog first and going from there.(less)

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Steve Alexander
Sep 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: real-books
This is one of the most entertaining books I have ever read. And I have read over 10 books.
Nov 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I've been a reader of XKCD for ages. Not just a reader, a fan. A big goey, geeky fan.

So much of a fan that when I heard about this book, I went so far as to abuse my power as an author to get an Advance Reading Copy of the book, so that I could enjoy its deliciousness sooner. And... y'know... taunt people on the internet.

And it worked. I got an early copy. And I treasured it. I petted it. It was precious to me. Precious.

Then life got in the way. Conventions. Promotion for my own book launch.
Sep 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Geeks
Recommended to Manny by: notgettingenough
Q: What would happen if every geek in the world received a copy of What If tomorrow morning?

A: Actually, less than you'd think.

First, a little background about this book. If you're a geek, it's unputdownable, a word that, if you think carefully, means "cannot be put down". (You may not be aware of this fact, since the word is nearly always misused). So the geek who receives it is going to carry on reading through breakfast, through lunch, while he's supposed to be working, and on through dinner,
Miranda Reads
Oct 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobook

Trying to thoroughly answer a stupid question can take you to some pretty interesting places.
Randall Munroe, ex-NASA employee and author of the wildly popular webcomic XKCD, decides to look at several, undoubtedly, absurd questions and find scientific answers to them.

Nothing is too absurd for him
- whether it be the logistics of finding your soulmate to what happens if our moon suddenly disappears - Munroe answers it all.
But I’ve never seen the Icarus story as a lesson about the limitatio
Dec 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
AMAZING BOOK! I love love love it and frankly, there's no better book to read on the toilet. Off the toilet too, but I learned so much and the writing is so engaging and entertaining and just MARVELOUS. Of course in the style of xkcd, this and Atlas Obscura would be my go-to book gifts this year. ...more
My evil plan of reading this book in small doses aloud to my students during math class has worked. Several of them have bought their own copies, and they are, I believe, planning to use their math skills for good, and not for world domination.
“But it turns out that trying to thoroughly answer a stupid question can take you to some pretty interesting places.”

Randall Munroe of fame (a former physicist and NASA robotics employee turned brilliant comics artist) can come to my house for tea and in-depth discussion of hypothetical scenarios based on the world’s dumbest questions (while showing me his back-of-the-napkin math which I will blindly believe as it will just whoosh over my head like a jet plane) any time.
Dear Mr. Munroe
Aug 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book opens with the best disclaimer I have ever seen:

"Do not try any of this at home. The author of this book is an Internet cartoonist, not a health or safety expert. He likes it when things catch fire or explode, which means he does not have your best interests in mind. The publisher and the author disclaim responsibility for any adverse effects resulting, directly or indirectly, from information contained in this book."

That disclaimer really sets the tone for this fun book about science:
Paul Bryant
Jan 15, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: science
Mr Munroe includes some “weird and worrying” questions from his website’s inbox which he presents without attempting to answer – one favourite was:

If you saved a whole life’s worth of kissing and used all that suction power on one single kiss, how much suction force would that single kiss have?

I guess the answer might be “what pharmaceutical products have you ingested during the last four hours?” or “May I speak to your parents?”

Another person named Jon Merrill asked

How fast would a human have t
Sep 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
xkcd hell - Tetris

Front Door

Youtube Comments

One of the things that's nice about goodreads is that it lets you embed pictures. ...And one of the nice things about xkcd is that it has lots of pictures licensed under CC Attribution/Non-Commerical - meaning I can post as many as I want to this review.

I'm pretty sure that if you're here, you already know about xkcd. But hey, why the heck not? Right? XKCD is why this Randall Munroe character is famous.

The book comes from his "what if" blog, which is also very good.

I took the book into work with
Riku Sayuj
Nov 22, 2014 rated it really liked it

Change.Org Petition: Despicable Munroe

The International Astronomical Union recently named an asteroid after Randall Munroe; asteroid 4942 Munroe is big enough to cause a mass extinction if it ever hits Earth.

Not that he needs an asteroid to do that. He has his minions devising millions of ways to do it, on a subversive site they call This book is a set of leaked manuals.

It should be clear to all how dangerous this guy (and his site) really is. But all Government agencies fail to heed
Nandakishore Varma
Nov 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
An apple fell on Newton's head.

"Why didn't this fall up instead of down?" Asked the scientist...

...And lo, the theory of gravitation was born.

- Well, not really. The story is apocryphal in all probability, like George Washington and the cherry tree. But it does illustrate an important fact.

Scientific enquiry starts with seemingly absurd questions.


Randall Munroe is a physics graduate who briefly worked for NASA: but his claim to fame is as the creator of the we
Lindsey Rey
Jul 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: funny, nonfiction, 2015
I highly recommend taking the audiobook route for this one unless you absolutely love very technical science. Wil Wheaton's narration was excellent and he delivered Munroe's humor perfectly! I loved this so much I bought a hard copy for my coffee table. ...more
It was okay, after several "stories" it got boring. For me, it would be better just as a blog, to read "story" or two per week, not all at once.

My favourite part was the Weird (and Worrying) Questions From the What If? Inbox.

Sometimes I even felt like it had to be me who posted those questions - I believed no one had as crazy ideas/question as I do... It turns out I got a lot of soulmates out there. :D
May 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Ted by: Brendon Schrodinger
What if … every Goodreads review had to be written in a randomly determined time? What per cent of submitted reviews would end with a completed sentence?

Well, this amounts to the question of, what per cent of reviewers would simply stop typing when the time ran out, instead of finishing up what they were saying and ignoring the stupid rule.

But there could be a correlation (or inverse correlation?) between how reviewers reacted to such a rule, and the day job they had – or the “purity” of the fie
B Schrodinger
Sep 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Every nerd knows Randall Munroe from his wildly humourous and insightful comics right?

You don't? What the hell are you doing here listening to me blab on?

For all those people still here, and who obviously know Randall's work, let's just bask in the mixture of intelligence, cleverness, hilarity and properly labelled axes. All the nerd girls want to sleep with him and all nerd boys want to sleep with him him.

So it seems like he has been running a column on his website w
Dec 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
I don't think I've ever laughed this much and hard from a science or non-fiction book-wait, I take that back, I haven't laughed this much from a book period. I mean periodic tables and radioactive decay doesn't normally warrant laughter-well at least when I read about it.

The questions being presented is stuff that would have never crossed my mind, but the instant I read them I was like -oh wow-what the funk if that really happened?

I loved the illustrations throughout- and how the scientific in
Mar 22, 2018 rated it liked it
This review and other non-spoilery reviews can be found @The Book Prescription

What if is a non-fiction book that -as the name implies- gives answer to some absurd hypothetical questions. The book was fun to read until at some points it wasn’t. The author is apparently a genius, I don’t know how can he think in that way. And the dedication and time that he puts to answer these questions is amazing.

I imagine the author as that student who used to sit at the front seat and answer all the questions
Tucker  (TuckerTheReader)
Two years after reading this for the first time, I now own two copies and re-read it monthly.
It started with a Kindle! Well, kind of. A long time ago, I bought a Kindle Fire. If you have bought a kindle Fire, then you know that Amazon fills the box with little 'tutorials'. *cough* ads in a pretty package*cough* Anyway, What If was on the pamphlet of books to read. It looked at it and thought interesting. I later read a book called 'Know it all', a book that asked and answered scientific q
This book was equal parts hilarious and utter nightmare fuel. I have never had such an emotionally confusing reading experience. One second, snorting my drink up my nose from laughter, the next trying to shove down the sudden and complete terror I'm experiencing because I've been forced to imagine trying to survive in six atmospheres of pressure brought upon by an expanding Earth, or collapsing into a pile of human goo because I've lost my DNA, and doing so has reminded me of my mortality and oh ...more
Mar 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to David by: B Schrodinger
Shelves: humor, science
Randall Munroe is a dangerous guy. Seriously dangerous. He is the author of the online comic strip xkcd. It's about math, science, hacking, logic, and a host of wonderfully nerdy subjects. But in this book, Munroe answers a stack of absurd hypothetical questions. Some of the questions are really crazy, like "What would happen if everyone on Earth stood as close to each other as they could and jumped, everyone landing on the ground at the same instant?" Munroe explains that the "thud" as everyone ...more
Oct 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a lot of fun from a guy who likes when things catch fire.

A lot of the questions reminded me of the ones Neil Gaiman fielded after Geoff Coffey's tweet that he would donate $1 to @EFF for every person who asks @neilhimself how they can watch American Gods in their country.
Dec 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016
Q. What if _____?
A. Nearly Everyone Would Die!
- Randall Munroe, What If?


There are certain things on this planet that you seemed to do fine without, but as soon as you discover, you can't now do without. Diet Dr. Pepper, David Foster Wallace, dark chocolate covered cherries all fit into this category. So, too, does Randall Munroe. He seems to occupy a space near, but not on, that vacated by Gary Larson when the great Gary Larson stopped drawing the Far Side (January 1, 1995). If you are unimpres
Nov 20, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Update: He published a lot more that aren't in this book. Read them for free here:

So... I love xkcd & some of these questions were really interesting - funny on the face with some really interesting science & math backing up the answer. For instance, the bullet being hit by lightning got into quite a few interesting facts about lightning. Who wouldn't want to know if a machine gun jet pack would work including discussions on caliber, barrel burn out, & fire rates?
Sep 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
Please, PLEASE do not try this at home.

That warning has probably never been more applicable, as attempting to reenact many of the scenarios from this book will result in our atmosphere turning into plasma and leading to the instant ignition of the Earth's surface.

Yeah. Just what I more thing to worry about.

Seriously. Please do not try making an actual Periodic Wall of Elements. A lot of those elements don't play well with others.

This book is massively entertaining and highly recomme
My boyfriend has never heard of XKCD. So I'm newly single, and looking for some fun.... recommendations. I sure know how to live it up.

OK, OK... Part of that is untrue - I didn't dump my boyfriend for not knowing what XKCD is. He's put up with some crazy kinds of shit from me, I GUESS I can accept this from him. *sigh* I couldn't resist reading part of this out loud to him, though. But to my dismay, I don't think that he fully appreciated the genius of it, but well... some people are co
Montzalee Wittmann
A fun, absurd, and informative book that I couldn't out down!

What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe is a fun book! Crazy questions are answered but answered scientifically! He also puts in a section called Weird and Worrisome Questions which have some really strange questions and then shows a cartoon of him as if he was first reading it! Hilarious! Lots of his cartoons are sprinkled throughout the book! This book is funny but informative too. I had
Jan 10, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
The only thing that's thought-provoking about this book is the fact that it's sold millions of copies and is considered good by the vast majority.

It bored me to death! Most (if not all) of the questions are simply useless. I mean why would I even give a fuck "what would happen if you were to gather a mole of moles in one place", or "how many unique English tweets are possible and how long it would take for the population of the world to read them out loud" (what the fuck???), or "if you call a r
Lois Bujold
Dec 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: A gift for your inner geek. Or your outer geek.
Recommended to Lois by: saw it mentioned on the webcomic site

I grinned all the way through this, except when I guffawed.

If you know the webcomic xkcd, this needs no introduction; if you don't, 1) go find it at once (here, let me help you: ) and 2) (handwaves wildly) I don't know how to explain it. It's the only webcomic I have bookmarked. No, I don't get all the math and computer jokes either, but they do sometimes give me a glimpse into a wider world.

Highly recommended.

Ta, L.
Roy Lotz
Apr 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book is a 303 page answer to the question: “What would happen if a skilled mathematician with an internet connection fielded unusual science questions?” The answer seems to be a best-seller. Munroe has recently announced that he will follow this success with a sequel, How To; and this leads us naturally to consider whether this will turn into a trilogy. If so, we can already begin to predict how the last installment will be named.

If we assume that the title will, like its predecessors, cons
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Randall Munroe, a former NASA roboticist, is the creator of the webcomic xkcd and the author of xkcd: volume 0. The International Astronomical Union recently named an asteroid after him; asteroid 4942 Munroe is big enough to cause a mass extinction if it ever hits a planet like Earth. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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