There are plenty of self-help guides on the shelves, but none quite like Randall Munroe's fourth book, How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems. Covering a wide field of subjects--how to build a lava moat, play tag, dig a hole, charge a phone--this extreme manual takes reasonable, everyday questions on a meandering exploration of impractically complex solutions. Throwing a pool party? Munroe calculates the necessary wall thickness of an above-ground pool made from hard gruyere cheese. For instructions on crossing a river, he walks the reader through the necessary steps to boil away all the water in the Kansas River using teakettles. Trying to preserve your copy of this book? The best bet is transferring it to a nickel-titanium disk and storing it on a comet, but a salt mine will do in a pinch.
Former NASA roboticist and webcomic creator Munroe (What If?, Thing Explainer) revels in the ridiculousness and uses each question as a jumping-off point for further inquiry. (For example, if you're going to build a lava moat, you'll also need a way to cool your house against the heat radiation.) Munroe goes into the science and mechanics of each activity and follows up with additional concerns and possible solutions, some reasonable but most bizarre.
"Physics doesn't care if your question is weird. It just gives you the answer, without judging." With How To, Munroe once again showcases what he does best: he makes scientific inquiry fun. According to Munroe, "This is a book of bad ideas," but that's what makes it great. --Jennifer Oleinik, freelance writer and editor