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A Book Review of “What If?” by Randall Munroe


Rose is an enthusiastic writer and reader who publishes articles most Thursdays. She enjoys all book genres, especially drama and fantasy.

What’s the Big Deal?

Books may seem like they’re a dime a dozen these days, and plenty of people may harbor the opinion that books everywhere are the same—but when you’re the exquisite debut novel of revered scientist, cartoonist, and former NASA roboticist Randall Munroe, that might change things up a bit. As the creator of the massively popular webcomic xkcd (dive in!), Munroe has been busy reading, writing and revising for a while, so when What If? went from a hypothetical question-and-answer blog to a bestselling book, he was ready. Since then, Munroe has written two more books, Thing Explainer and the absurdly funny How To—but nothing can beat What If?, the craziest and most unique book you’ll ever read.

“What If?” by Randall Munroe

“What If?” by Randall Munroe

Book Summary

What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions is exactly what it sounds like, only better. Over the course of 295 pages (hardback version), readers will be gifted with comics, graphs, hilarious footnotes, and answers to some of the craziest questions humankind can think up. Have you ever wondered when the bandwidth of the Internet will surpass that of FedEx? Probably not—but you are now, right?

This question is one of many that are investigated in What If?. Other queries include “What would happen if everyone on Earth stood as close to each other as they could and jumped”—which, by the way, “as close as they could” would mean any area merely the size of Rhode Island—as well as “How high can a human throw something?,” “What would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90 percent the speed of light?,” and “What if a rainstorm dropped all of its water in a single giant drop?”.

The fun doesn’t stop there. Munroe also includes sections of questions he didn’t answer, but are still entertaining to read—“Weird (And Worrying) Questions from the What If? Inbox, #1” includes someone’s question of whether it would be possible to get your teeth to a temperature so cold that they would shatter upon drinking a hot cup of coffee, plus another (completely normal) query asking what the easiest way to significantly increase the number of houses burned down in the U.S. each year would be. Sounds like fun, right? Just follow Munroe’s disclaimer and don’t try these at home!

Quick Facts

  • Author: Randall Munroe
  • Pages: 295
  • Genre: Nonfiction, science, humor
  • Ratings: 4.5/5 Barnes & Noble, 4.2/5 Goodreads
  • Release date: September 2, 2014
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

To Read or Not to Read?

I recommend this book if:

  • You’re a fan of the author’s webcomic xkcd, Nathan W. Pyle’s alien webcomics, or other nerdy forms of entertainment
  • You’re looking for something fun to break up monotony or boredom
  • You like learning while you read
  • Science, humor or comics are things that you typically enjoy
  • You’re a curious person who asks questions frequently and likes knowing the answers to things

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.

— Randall Munroe, “What If?”


“Munroe must get thousands of questions submitted by readers. He answers a modest subset of those that not only pique his interest but are amusing and offer the potential to use real science to explore concepts, the world around us, and day-to-day mysteries of life and the universe.” —HuffPost

What If? is a great book for science geeks and general readers with an interest in scientific concepts. It’s funny, interesting, and unique, and it shows just how weird the inbox at xkcd must get at times.” —The Scholarly Kitchen

A comic drawn by the book’s author, Randall Munroe

A comic drawn by the book’s author, Randall Munroe

The Takeaway

Whether you’re a kid, an adult, or someone caught between the two, you’ll enjoy the hilarious complexities of What If?. It’s got science, but not like that physics class you took in high school—it won’t stress you out or confuse you (most of the time). It’s got drawings, so visual learners can understand too—and it’s even got footnotes and citations, for all of you English teachers out there. (Mind you, there are some comments that are listed as [citation needed]—e.g., “falling from great heights is dangerous” and “The world is big.”)

Essentially, if you like books, comics, graphs, science, or humor, you’ll love Randall Munroe’s “serious scientific answers to absurd hypothetical questions.” If you’re interested, you can buy the book here.