What If? by Randall Munroe

Second paragraph of the answer to the question in the third chapter, which is “What if I took a swim in a typical spent nuclear fuel pool? Would I need to dive to actually experience a fatal amount of radiation? How long could I stay safely at the surface?”

Spent fuel from nuclear reactors is highly radioactive. Water is good for both radiation shielding and cooling, so fuel is stored at the bottom of pools for a couple decades until it’s inert enough to be moved into dry casks. We haven’t really agreed on where to put those dry casks yet. One of these days we should probably figure that out.

This is a collection of short pieces originally published on the XKCD website, scientific answers to peculiar questions. They all seem to be well thought out, with plenty of detail, and it’s also very very funny in places.

They say lightning never strikes in the same place twice. “They” are wrong. From an evolutionary perspective, it’s a little surprising that this saying has survived; you’d think that people who believed it would have been gradually filtered out of the living population.

I guess I didn’t learn a lot from the book, but it’s great that it states the obvious in a breezily engaging manner. One thing that I did get from it is the brilliant Welikia website which reconstructs Manhattan Island before European settlement. But mostly I just enjoyed the ride. You can get it here.

This was my top unread non-fiction book. Next on that pile is My Family and Other Animals, by George Durrell.

1 thought on “What If? by Randall Munroe

  1. “What if” was very much my sort of nonsense.
    If you’ve not read it before, you’re in for a treat with “My Family and Other Animals”.

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