What If? by Randall Monroe

what ifI love to read. My husband does not. So when a friend gave Josh What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Monroe for Christmas last year, I figured that I would be the one to eventually read it. (I can think of three separate books he’s been given as Christmas gifts that I have ended up reading instead.) To my surprise, I found Josh reading quite a bit over the next few days. He would laugh to himself and then read sections over again to me so that I could laugh too. (I found this particularly enjoyable because the situation has played out in the reverse many, many times.)

The basic premise is this: hypothetical questions are answered as accurately as possible given current scientific research. One of the reasons Josh loves this book so much is because of the science behind the answers. The author cites peer-reviewed studies and even links directly to sources on his website. And before you ask, yes, I have found Josh reading the source articles as well. For fun.

Some of the questions answered in the book can be found on the What If? website. The site also contains answers to other questions not featured in the book, so it’s a great place to get a feel for whether or not this would be the type of book you or a loved one would enjoy. Here are some articles that we think are a good sample:

Lunar Swimming
Relativistic Baseball (This is the one that got us hooked.)
Rising Steadily

After Josh read the whole book over Christmas break, I found him reading through some of his favorite questions again. I have yet to catch Josh trying to cry silently while he reads a particularly sad part* of this (or any other) book in a public setting, though, so he has a way to go before he can claim to be an Serious Reader, or whatever you call people who do that (me).

*This book has no sad parts. It also has no main characters. It is, however, perfect for anyone who likes to wonder and then likes that wondering to be answered in explicit detail.

I would recommend this to: fans of the What If? website, chronic daydreamers, anyone who finds themselves making spreadsheets for fun, or science nerds. (I use that term affectionally, of course.) If you think the blog is mind-numbingly specific, you probably won’t like the book.


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