What If? 2, humor in the service of science

Can we eat a cloud? Is it possible to create a laval lamp with real lava? And what would happen if we passed all of Niagara Falls’ water flow through a straw? Author and cartoonist Randall Munroe offers a new batch of scientific explanations for sometimes far-fetched questions with What If? 2.

Former researcher at NASA, the American space agency, since converted into a designer on the web, with the excellent series XKCD, Mr. Munroe retained a passion for science and sometimes things as absurd as possible. His gags are always a mixture of scientific knowledge and humor that is a little niche, even sometimes very niche.

But over the years, he easily built up an audience, an audience whose expansion picked up speed with the opening of the blog. What If?, a place where people could submit hypothetical science-related questions. Mr. Munroe then tried to answer them, whether by drawing on his personal knowledge, or by consulting studies and researchers.

And these questions can take all kinds of forms. There are the most disturbing ones, for example on how to defeat Air Force One’s defenses with a drone – Munroe will sidestep with a cartoon showing him contacting encore the US Secret Service – but there are also questions that make more sense… Or so it seems.

Thus, we will be interested in particular in the speed of the expansion of the universe, in the construction of a high building of a billion floors, in our famous lamp lava with real lava, and more. In the vast majority of cases, the questions lead to preposterous answers, usually involving the death of many people, horrible accidents, or even the end of everything. As if the space between the Sun and the orbit of Jupiter were filled with soup. Hard to believe that the thing would be so massive that it would result in a black hole capable of swallowing our galaxy…

Both informative and funny, but always in a way nerdin a way, each chapter arouses this distinct pleasure linked to a sought-after humor, but not too strong either.

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We close the last page thinking that this reading, although voluminous, has gone by too quickly. At least, while waiting for a possible third volume, we can fall back on the website…

What If? 2 – Additional Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questionsby Randall Munroe, published by Riverhead Books, 334 pages

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