Science fiction and fantasy                                            

How To

by Randall Munroe

In How To, Randall Munroe asks questions that few science books dare to, or that they wouldn't even consider. The absurdity of many of the lines of enquiry make this the kind of book that only the author of xkcd could have written.

Full references at the end demonstrate how properly researched the science is. However, it's properly researched nonsense, such as how to build a lava moat, or how to fly an irate Roc, or the worst way to fight an election unless your plan is to lose. This isn't a book that you'd read with a specific plan for taking the lessons within and putting them to some practical use. Rather, it's a great book for dipping into while you stand in a queue or wait in a waiting room, so long as you don't mind people giving you curious looks as you chuckle to yourself.

The section about moving fast has fascinating information about light speed travel and the way time compresses and the universe expands. It talks about how long you'd need to travel at light speed, or near light speed, before you'd witness the heat death of the universe. Nearly every science fiction space show omits this detail of superfast travel.

A section on book disposal segues into nuclear waste disposal in ocean trenches or in the sun. The part on "How To Catch A Drone" turns into a discussion of the best sportsperson to take one down. Munroe's mind is all over the place, and his enthusiasm is boundless. It's a bit like a five year old is asking the questions, if that kid had a PhD.

The experiments within are impractical, to say the least. However, the mental images they convey, along with Randall's stick figure illustrations, mean that the concepts are simply explained and are more likely to stay with you than something delivered in a drier style. So How To is educational. It's also hilarious, and I found myself laughing out loud at intervals throughout. So although the subject matter is somewhat advanced science and maths, it's explained in such a light and accessible way, with diagrams where needed, that a non-specialist audience should easily understand it.

8th October 2021

Book Details

Year: 2019

Categories: Books


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Review ©

Source: own copy