Gallows Humor

Of the many, many great reasons for using the library, one of my favorites is being able to ‘impulse buy’ a book. Since there is no cost involved, I can throw caution to the wind and select a book based on its cover, size, title or any other bizarre criteria I fancy. While there is definitely fun to be had selecting a book after thorough research and vetting, randomly finding a great book seems twice as sweet.

Recently, I made just such a discovery after coming across the intriguingly titled And Then You’re Dead: What Really Happens if You Get Swallowed by a Whale, Are Shot from a Cannon or Go Barreling Over Niagara by Cody Cassidy and Paul Doherty. While the book definitely delivers some gruesome and snarky fun, it also provides a surprising amount of science to back up the macabre scenarios. I actually ended up learning a lot about fluid dynamics, nuclear fission, physics and, of course, human physiology among many other ‘serious’ topics.

This effective combination of gallows humor and scientific inquiry is down to the two authors. Cody Cassidy is a sports reporter and editor who lets you know that “He has no firsthand experience with any of the scenarios described in this book.” Paul Doherty is the senior staff scientist at San Francisco’s Exploratorium Museum and has a PhD in solid state physics from MIT. Their collaboration produces some truly hilarious and surprisingly scientific writing on gruesome, bizarre and outright implausible ways to end your existence.

How implausible you ask? Well let’s start with the simply unlikely: What would happen if…  (Illustrations by Cody Cassidy from the book)

You Were Attacked by a Swarm of Bees?

You Were Struck by Lightning?

You Were in an Airplane and Your Window Popped Out?

Now let’s graduate to the currently impossible. What would happen if…

You Jumped Into a Black Hole?

You Stood on the Surface of the Sun?

You Time Traveled?

And finally, my favorite category, the totally absurd. What would happen if…

You Were Strapped into Dr. Frankenstein’s Machine?

You Were Raised by Buzzards?

You Were the Ant Under the Magnifying Glass?

To give away the answers would be to spoil the fun, but as the book title suggests, the answers to all these questions tends to end with “And Then You’re Dead.”

One final note, whatever you do don’t skip the footnotes when reading this book. Some of the most entertaining bits are contained therein. In the chapter titled ‘What Would Happen if You Put on the World’s Loudest Headphones?’ the footnote to a sentence on sound pressure waves reads:

These pressure waves dissipate in the air as heat, and though yelling doesn’t produce enough heat to be a health risk, if you hollered at a cold cup of coffee that was in a perfect thermos, your cup would be hot and ready to drink in a year and a half.

So if you feel like learning while laughing, and don’t have a weak stomach, definitely check out And Then You’re Dead. If it doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, there is no need to fear. There are plenty of other titles in the collection to ‘buy’ on impulse. No purchase required.

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