Review: What If 2 by Randall Munroe

Review by JT Menard

In 2014, Randall Munroe, the creator of the popular web comic XKCD released his first book,
“What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions”. The book used
Munroe’s background in physics and experience as a former NASA programmer to answer a
variety of theoretically possible scientific questions. For example, what if a major league pitcher
could throw a baseball at 99% the speed of light? Answer: Nuclear explosion. The book was
popular and paved the way for two other books, “How To?” and “Thing Explainer”. While
unique and interesting in their own way, neither reached the heights of “What If?”. Munroe has
now followed up with a sequel, “What If? 2: More Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd
Hypothetical Questions”.

The novelty of “What If 2” is that all the questions answered within are
fan submitted questions. The effect of this is a book that feels much less focused than the original
but at the same time there’s a delight to the absolute chaos of the questions.
As you can imagine with reader-submitted questions, there is not a single unifying theme to the
hypotheticals. Topics include: could you fit all the world’s bananas into all the world’s
churches?; If the universe stopped expanding right now, how long would it take to drive across
it?; How many humans a day would a T-Rex needs to consume to live healthily? Though the
questions are generally silly, the subtitle doesn’t lie. Munroe treats every—well, almost
every—question with absolute seriousness, devoting pages to figuring out, for example, the
average metabolic rate of a T-Rex or the total volume of the world’s banana crop. Punctuating
each hypothetical are stick-figure illustrations of each scenario—Munroe’s specialty. These
drawings are frequently amusing and hold each mental exercise together.
“What If? 2” is a great book for people with big imaginations; the person in your life who is
always wondering, well, “what if?” Fans of Munroe’s previous books or the XKCD web comic
will also find more of what they love contained within its pages, it’s classic Randall Munroe.
“What If? 2” might even come in handy at holiday parties. It certain has plenty of conversation
starters—if you’re brave enough.