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What if? – a review

What If ImageWhat if there was a webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math and language? What if millions of people visited this website each week? What if the dedicated fans asked the comic creator the strangest questions and he applied his skills as a former NASA roboticist to deeply research the answers? And what if a book was created from the most popular answers with new material added for good measure?

What if the book were here already? Well, it is! We have the very popular science book What if? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe based on questions submitted to his xkcd.com website. We can read it cover to cover or we can look at one question at a time and we can do that in a random order.

Munroe shows us that he is adept at answering questions in any field of science, and in fact he seems to favour those questions that allow him to incorporate mathematics into an array of science not easily classified as physics, chemistry or biology. Of course, I liked the question: “if someone’s DNA suddenly vanished, how long would that person last?“ His answer explores the weight of DNA in an average person, and then he examines the effects of poisons, chemotherapy and radiation on a person’s metabolism as examples of when the action of DNA is taken away from a cell. When asked what would happen if self-fertilization were possible, Munroe uses a version of character development from D&D to demonstrate genetic variation and why self-fertilization is a risky strategy.

When some visitors to my home picked up the book and read out a couple of sections, one of them exclaimed that What if? was the Darwin awards for the educated. While it is true that a background in science or mathematics will add to the enjoyment, I believe this book can be a fun read for anyone. This book can certainly be used by STEM educators to encourage their students to exercise their own creativity and thinking skills.

Click here for a complete list of the books I have reviewed.


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What if? – a review

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