How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems by Randall Munroe, 5/5
This book does not disappoint! It is filled with hilarious, ridiculous, scientifically strenuous “solutions” to problems ranging from “how to jump really high” to “how to change a light bulb.” As a piano teacher, I found the chapter on how to play the piano particularly hilarious and thought-provoking. I’ve never thought to ask questions like “how many keys would need to be added to the piano keyboard to make music for whales?” (spoiler: it’s not as many as you’d think!).
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? Is it possible to build a jetpack using downward-firing machine guns? From what height would you need to drop a steak for it to be cooked when it hit the ground?
With his trademark wit, scientific know-how, and ability to draw strangely hilarious stick figures, Randall Munroe answers some of the vital questions that have been asked by readers of his webcomic, xkcd. I expected this book to be underwhelming and a bit of a chore to read (à la almost all the other books based on webcomics I’ve encountered), but it was hilarious and accessible–my teenaged brother got his hands on it before me and read the whole thing in short order. The content seems well-suited to book format and, surprisingly, I found it to be even funnier and more readable than the What If? blog that inspired its creation.
[Why I read it: I’ve been a fan of xkcd for several years now.]
XKCD is my favourite webcomic–I visit the homepage several times a week to check for updates and, despite having a liberal-arts degree, I usually understand enough to get a good laugh (or two, because: alt text). However, this collection of some of Munroe’s favourite strips reflects a mind that is both keener and dirtier than my own. I did not understand much of it, and much that I did understand was pretty R-rated. But I’m not complaining; the best part of buying this book is that it supports the webcomic.
[Why I read it: I was given it as a gift (being basically the only present I hinted for last holidays).]