Book review of What if by Randall Munroe

Recently, I got a chance to read a fascinating book which is called “What If”. By looking at the name of the book, we can roughly hold an idea that this book is like an encyclopedia which answers questions and the questions usually start with “What if”.

In fact, it is true that this book gives out and answers an amount of questions, but those questions are mainly so confusing and ridiculous. For example, there is a question asking that, “What would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90 percent the speed of light?” If an ordinary person is asked to answer this question, he might simply reply, “Are you an idiot? Who can hit a baseball pitch at 90 percent the speed of light, none of us can reach 1 percent the speed of light!” However, the author takes it very serious and fully describes what will happen in the circumstances. He tells us the baseball will be totally fused as the particles in air won’t have enough time to escape and then they will collide and create a plasma sphere within one microsecond. He believes that there will be a big explosion with a mushroom cloud. The growing fireball will then tear up trees and shredding houses. This tragedy will be the end for the high speed baseball.

This book contains 69 questions which are all so confusing and crazy, but the author patiently wrote each answer and came up with a detailed explanation. He saw every question as a topic of the thesis in the university. He carefully did every single calculation and did as many researches as he could to get an answer. He even travelled around the world to ask experts in many areas for help and borrow a super computer to simulate the extreme conditions the questions give to make up with a more appropriate consequence of them.

I enjoy reading this book because it gives me a lot of ideas which I barely knew about it such as a fuel pool. It makes me learn a lot about the science, the universe and the rules of them as well. The knowledge inside the book is not only the common sense but also the great imagination and complicated equations.

In addition, I really admire the author as he took all those things to heart and worked very hard to solve the questions. In fact, some people just wanted to make fun of him and asked a lot of boring and ridiculous questions on his website but he just got serious, thought a lot and wrote down all the equations he could remember to find the better answers. It made me remember a joke which was used to tease the people who mainly had doctor or master degrees but don’t have enough common sense. It said that a normal person got into an online forum which was full with doctors and masters. They were discussing about what height should be needed to make a drop of water kill a man. They spent lots of time arguing with each other and they still didn’t get a certain answer. Then the normal man broke in, “Have you ever been out in the rain?” The people got silence for a moment and then kicked him out of the forum. However, I now see it as an unreasonable joke. It is used to make fun of someone who takes things serious. What they are talking about was obviously not only the earth, but the universe. We shouldn’t be blinded by the things we see. We should move further away from the earth so that we can see the things differently, closer to the truth.

We don’t have any rights to laugh at those who work intensively to get the truth. Conversely we should learn things from them, both the knowledge and characters they have.