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

Do not try any of this at home. The author of this book is an internet cartoonist, not a health or safety expert.

In a nutshell, Randall Munroe takes the humor that makes up xkcd and the what if series and turns it into a book series. It’s weird, it’s wonderful, and it’s worth a read. You might just learn something– even if it’s not at all the thing you were expecting to learn.

Random things I love about this book? I love the footnotes:

In 1699, Scottish privateer1 William Kidd was about to be arrested for various maritime crimes2.

I love how deadpan much of the humor is (the extremely simplistic art style makes it work):


Three hundred million kettles will take up a circular area 2 miles in diameter. To boil the river, you’ll have to split it up and divert its flow across your kettle field. Each kettle will boil the water as it flows in, and once a kettle is empty, fresh water from the river will replace it.

It’s especially amusing when it feels like he’s reading your mind:

When people talk about the weather in their particular location, they often repeat an old saying: “If you don’t like the weather in [insert location here], just wait five minutes.” Like every clever saying, it’s often attributed to Mark Twain. In this case, he probably did actually say it, but if it turns out he didn’t, you can just attribute it to Dorothy Parker or Oscar Wilde.

People repeat this quote just about everywhere in the temperate zones, because weather changes all the time and we’re constantly surprised by it for some reason.* These changes can be hard to predict, but since weather is something that everyone has to deal with—we’re all trapped together at the bottom of this atmosphere—we try anyway.


To top it all off…

Oh how things have changed living in the age of the coronavirus. Oy.

Overall, some of the chapters are awesome, some are a bit weak, but you could do worse than giving it a chance.

And hey, apparently this is actually the sequel? What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions. Oops! Gotta go read that one now.

  1. Pirate ↩︎

  2. Piracy ↩︎