cover image How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems

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

Randall Munroe. Riverhead, $28 (336p) ISBN 978-0-525-53709-0

Munroe (Thing Explainer), a former NASA roboticist and creator of the popular webcomic xkcd, offers a witty, educational examination of “unusual approaches to common tasks, and... what would happen to you if you tried them.” Each chapter explores scientific problems with often Rube Goldbergian solutions; in “How to Cross a River,” one could freeze the river, but, due to the second law of thermodynamics, only with a device “fed by a river of gasoline... comparable in size to the river you want to freeze.” To fill a backyard pool, one could siphon H2O from a neighbor living at a higher elevation, buy a ton of bottled water (necessitating industrial plastic shredders to efficiently extract the liquid), or create one’s own water. The text is generously laced with dry humor (“Playing the piano isn’t very hard, in the sense that the keys are all easy to reach and they don’t take very much force to push down”), and Munroe’s comic stick-figure art is an added bonus. But apart from generating laughter, the book also manages to achieve his serious objective: to get his audience thinking “of ideas and then trying to decide whether they’re good or not.” [em]Agent: Seth Fishman, Gernert Company. (Sept.) [/em]