BooksOfTheMoon

How To

By Randall Munroe

Rating: 4 stars

There are perfectly sensible ways to dig a hole, cross a river or move house. If you’re a fan of any of being sensible, do not buy this book. The author uses Science! to find the most useless, complex and dangerous ways of doing common or everyday tasks. As well as the above, we learn to how throw a pool party, move house, predict the weather and much more.

In this book I learned that the US military detonated nuclear weapons to see what effect they would have on alcoholic and carbonated beverages (good news, they survived and, apparently, tasted fine); that one percent of people think it’s okay for employees to steal expensive equipment from their workplace (presumably that’s the oft-neglected thieves’ vote); and that if the book itself was used to power a car, it would burn through about 30,000 words per minute.

Munroe persuaded Serena Williams to hit tennis balls at drones (outcome: Serena Williams is very good at accurately hitting balls at things) and Chris Hadfield to answer increasingly stupid questions about how to land an aeroplane/space shuttle/space station (which he amusingly did without batting an eyelid).

Munroe certainly didn’t skimp on showing his workings throughout. For whatever harebrained scheme he comes up with, he probably provides not only the outline solution, but there’s a good chance he’ll provide the relevant equations and fill in the values for you, so you can try it for yourself. In fact, this book probably has more equations than I’ve seen outwith a maths or physics textbook and almost certainly has the highest laugh to equation ratio of any book that I’ve read all the way through.

A lot of fun, engagingly written and scientifically accurate, if implausible. If you do try out some of the things in this book, make sure to video yourself so that the rest of us can point to it in warning of Things That Man Was Not Meant To Attempt.

Book details

ISBN: 9781473680326

What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions

By Randall Munroe

Rating: 5 stars

I’m a confirmed fan of XKCD but I’ve never really got into What If. However, I was given the book for Christmas and I’m glad that I was because I really enjoyed it. I love the way that Munroe takes, as it puts it on the cover, absurd hypothetical questions, and answers them in a really methodical way and the gleeful way he adds more power until he gets really big explosions.

I was surprised by just how readable the book was. I fairly flew through it in a couple of days, when I was expecting to read one or two questions a day. Munroe is very good at balancing his answers between science and entertainment (the cartoons, captions and footnotes definitely helping with the latter). The explanations are always clear and delivered with the minimal amount of maths required to make it make sense, although he never shies away from the maths. This is a guy who knows his audience and never talks down to them.

This is a book not just for fans of XKCD, but for anyone who kept (or, indeed, still keeps) asking ‘why’. Anyone who’s spent time mulling over questions that other people think are silly or pointless. Munroe not only takes such questions seriously but he answers them, and will extrapolate it until he can make something explode [Citation needed].

Book details

ISBN: 9781848549579
Publisher: John Murray
Year of publication: 2014

xkcd: volume 0

By Randall Munroe

Rating: 5 stars

It’s XKCD, but in paper form. All the geekiness, none of the monitor eyestrain. Since the originals of some of the early strips are lost, so this isn’t a straight chronological listing of strips, but a collection of Munroe’s favourites. The tooltip texts are all present, usually inserted below the strip, or in between panels, and there is new stuff as well, with some being commentary on strips, some random doodles and some random-looking codes that are probably very funny if I could be bothered decoding them. Which I can’t.

Book details

ISBN: 9780615314464
Publisher: Breadpig
Year of publication: 2009

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