How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems – Randall Munroe

Another one of the accidental BookPeople buys. Sometimes I like a book that seems to be about nothing in particular. And this one looked like a good match. A book to stretch your mind and have some fun.

Randall Munroe is a cartoonist and an engineer. The book combines both of his gifts seamlessly. With every potential answer illustrated for our education. The book indeed does what it promises in the title. Only a bit perversely.

Have you ever wondered how to open 100 000 bottles of water at once, and whether nuclear energy may be helpful? Or how much fuel would your car use if you put your whole house on it? Or how to mail a package from space?

Probably not, but that’s exactly why this book is so much fun. What Randall enjoys the most is the fact that you can ask physics any question and if you have enough input data it shall give you an answer. The ultimate case of ‘there are no stupid questions’. So that’s exactly what he does. He takes simple problems like jumping further or crossing a river and happily ignores the answers our complacent brains give us. Instead, he lets his imagination run wild.

This is a book for people who would like to consider having a lava moat. Or how to power your house on Mars. But also very real problems such as how to charge your phone at the airport is there are no sockets?

Fun, entertaining and showing the human face of physics. I must admit I’ve never seen that. In all my schools physics was probably one of the most boring subjects. Which when I think of it now is weird, it’s the one that touches and impacts us the most every day. You simply cannot avoid physics, so it really must have taken some effort to turn it into such a bore. Munroe does the exact opposite, he shows you physics can be fun. I wish someone explained things to me like this.

This book reminded me why I like to buy a book that seems silly at the beginning. And the answer is – fun, if you manage to find one that is smart and fun at the same time it really is a gem. This time I think my favorite part was the Q&A on how to make an emergency landing with Chris Hadfield, a test pilot and astronaut. The things you learn by asking questions! What crop is best to land one, how to land passenger plane on aircraft carrier, is it possible to steer a plane from the outside or how to land a falling house. Lovely!

Another good one was on shooting down a drone. Munroe actually convinced Serena Williams to take a stab at shooting her husband’s drone (who agreed to sacrifice it in the name of science) with a tennis ball. Munroe estimated it would take her five to sever tries. But there you go, the third one and the poor drone was dead.

Where do you stand with physics? Love it or hate it?

Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska @vkphotospace.com 

3 thoughts on “How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems – Randall Munroe

  1. Pingback: Q2 2020 round-up – bookskeptic.com

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