‘What If?’ by Randall Munroe

Randall Munroe, creator of the mega-popular xkcd webcomic, gets asked a lot of weird questions:

What would happen if the Earth and all terrestrial objects suddenly stopped spinning, but the atmosphere retained its velocity?

What would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90% the speed of light?

What would it be like if you traveled back in time, starting in Times Square, New York, 1,000 years? 10,000 years? 100,000 years? 1,000,000 years? 1,000,000,000 years? What about forward in time 1,000,000 years?

What is the farthest one human being has ever been from every other living person? Were they lonely?

The questions themselves are amusing, but the real fun comes when he attempts to answer them seriously using hard scientific data and analysis. In his new-ish book, What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions, he collects together a bunch of these eminently readable pieces — many of which have never been published on the webcomic. As one Amazon reviewer put it:

If you have even a passing interest in science and ever enjoy daydreaming about the fantastic or the ridiculous, this book is for you. If you don’t think that you enjoy those things, this book will prove to you that you do.

Trust me, if you’re reading this then Munroe’s book belongs in your collection. It’s available in hardcover ($15) and as a Kindle edition ($7).