What If? Book Summary - What If? Book explained in key points
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What If? summary

Randall Munroe

Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions

3.5 (104 ratings)
18 mins

Brief summary

What If? by Randall Munroe is a fun and informative book that uses science to answer absurd hypothetical questions. With wit and humor, Munroe explores creative and outlandish scenarios, teaching readers about science and critical thinking along the way.

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    What If?
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    If the Sun went out, we would see a variety of benefits in many areas of life.

    What would happen to Earth if the Sun suddenly went dark? It’s a haunting thought but, surprisingly, many good things would come from it. Let’s look at a few examples.

    One positive consequence would be a reduced risk of solar flares – those abrupt, massive releases of energy on the Sun’s surface. Solar flares pose a high risk for us as they’re often succeeded by geomagnetic storms, which are temporary disruptions of Earth’s magnetic field.

    We experienced this in 1859, when a massive solar flare and geomagnetic storm hit Earth. The storm produced powerful currents in telegraph wires, setting fire to them and wiping out communications.

    Since 1859, though, we have built countless more wires. If a storm were to strike us today, researchers estimate that the economic damage to the US alone would amount to trillions of dollars.

    But, of course, we needn’t fret about this if the sun went out!

    A second advantage would be that infrastructure costs would be reduced. Think of bridges – we build them in order to cross water. But if the Sun went out, we could simply drive across the ice. Add to this the estimated $20 billion we spend on repairing US bridges annually and we’d also save on infrastructure!

    Third, trade would be cheaper.

    If the Sun were no more, darkness would reign, and a land of eternal night has no use for time zones. Time zones make it more complicated to do business when international office hours don’t match up. But without the Sun, we could all exist in one time zone, which would speed up communication, allowing a healthy boost to the global economy.  

    But what about the downside? Well, with no Sun, we would all freeze and die. Perhaps we should keep our Sun after all.

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    What is What If? about?

    In What If? (2014), Randall Munroe presents earnest, thoroughly researched answers to absurd, hypothetical questions in a highly entertaining and digestible format. Munroe serves up the most popular answers from queries he received through his What If? blog, along with a host of new, delightful, mind-bending questions and answers.    

    What If? Review

    What If? by Randall Munroe (2014) is a fascinating exploration of hypothetical scenarios and their scientific ramifications. Here's why we think this book is definitely worth reading:

    • Full of mind-bending questions and Munroe's trademark humor, it offers a unique and entertaining perspective on various hypothetical situations.
    • Backed by scientific research and expert insights, the book provides accurate and thought-provoking explanations, satisfying the curiosity of even the most curious readers.
    • Its creative and engaging illustrations accompany the text, making complex scientific concepts accessible and ensuring that the book is anything but boring.

    Best quote from What If?

    As a rule of thumb, if you cant dunk a basketball, you wouldnt be able to escape this asteroid by jumping.

    —Randall Munroe
    example alt text

    Who should read What If??

    • Anyone who loves to ponder the hypothetical
    • Anyone interested the oddities of math, science, and technology
    • Any fan of Randall Munroe’s webcomic, xkcd

    About the Author

    Randall Munroe is a former NASA roboticist and the creator of the hugely popular xkcd webcomic. In 2013, at the request of a number of xkcd enthusiasts, the asteroid 4942 Munroe was named after him by the International Astronomical Union.

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    What If? FAQs 

    What is the main message of What If??

    Explore mind-bending hypothetical questions and enjoy the creative and scientific thinking behind the answers.

    How long does it take to read What If??

    The reading time for What If? varies depending on the reader's speed, but it typically takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is What If? a good book? Is it worth reading?

    What If? is an entertaining and thought-provoking book that combines humor with scientific expertise. It's definitely worth reading.

    Who is the author of What If??

    Randall Munroe is the author of What If?

    What to read after What If??

    If you're wondering what to read next after What If?, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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    • What If? 2 by Randall Munroe
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    • How to Speak Machine by John Maeda
    • The Design of Everyday Things by Donald A. Norman
    • Mindset by Carol Dweck
    • Why We Remember by Charan Ranganath
    • Fight Right by Julie Schwartz Gottman