How a book could kill you

Are you the sort of person who wonders what would happen if you stuck your head into a nuclear particle accelerator? Or if you jumped into an interstellar black hole? Or even how a book could kill?

Well, in new book And Then You’re Dead: The world’s most interesting ways to die, authors Paul Doherty and Cody Cassidey give serious answers to these horribly interesting questions (and many more) in a very easy to understand manner. To prove this, here’s how their book could kill you!

What Would Happen If… You Were Killed by This Book?

Sitting there reading our book you might not think you are holding a lethal weapon. You probably think you have never seen a less lethal object in your life, but that’s where you’re wrong. If you were to properly employ this book’s kinetic, chemical, or nuclear energy it could destroy you, the bookstore, or your entire city. How do you turn this book into an instrument of gruesome lethality? Let’s start with And Then You’re Dead’s kinetic energy.

Dropping And Then You’re Dead won’t make it lethal. Even if you were reading this on top of the Empire State Building, it wouldn’t build up enough speed to do any damage.[1] Its terminal velocity is only 25 miles-per-hour—​-slower than you could throw it. And we’ll stop you right there. Throwing it won’t do the trick either. A 50‑miles-per-​hour book might hurt but is definitely not lethal.

But what if you launched it from a book cannon?

At 100 miles per hour this book would hit you with roughly the same force as a baseball, which would hurt but most likely not kill you (though a 100-​miles-​per-​hour baseball has killed before). So let’s take it up a notch.

A copy of And Then You’re Dead (ATYD) hitting you at the speed of sound would penetrate your skin and knock you down. You would probably survive if it hit you in the arm or leg, but if it hit you in the chest the shock wave could disrupt your heartbeat and kill you.

If we sped the book up to Mach 10, it would hit you with 5,000 times the energy of a -100-​-miles-​-per-​-hour copy. The book would compress and heat the air in front of it so that it would fly toward you as a 3,000-degree incandescent ball. Unfortunately for you, it would not burn up entirely. It would if you just left it -there—​-it’s certainly hot -enough—​-but it isn’t just lying there. It’s traveling toward you at 10 times the speed of sound, so it doesn’t have time to burn up. Instead, it would embed itself in your chest as a 3,000-degree paper cannonball.

But let’s fire it faster. Mach 200 is the fastest a -man-​-made object has ever traveled. To get the book up to this speed you would need to build a giant potato cannon with a nuclear bomb functioning as the hair spray.[2] At this speed the book is a flying plasma sphere coming toward you at more than 150,000 miles per hour. It would take 1 minute and 12 seconds to travel from New York to San Francisco. If it hit you, you would be blown apart in a big mess of body parts and pages.

That’s using this book’s kinetic energy, but to do even more damage you should take advantage of its chemical properties.

[If you don’t like reading about harm to books, and we don’t just mean dog-ears, look away now!]

Exploding books

Putting a match to this book will barely warm your hands. But that’s not making the best use of its potential chemical energy. The best thing to do is the same thing scientists do when testing the number of calories in a candy bar: Explode it.

The way scientists test the calorie content of food is to dehydrate it, grind it up, and place it in a -pure-​-oxygen-​-filled steel container, then spark it. The power of the explosion (equal to approximately one stick of dynamite, in the case of the candy bar) is the measure of the food’s calories.

A copy of ATYD contains 1,600 calories,[3] or nearly a full day’s worth of food if you were like a termite and could digest paper’s cellulose. If you ground this book up, put it in a steel container with pure oxygen, and sparked it, it would explode with the same power as five sticks of dynamite.[4] If you were reading it at the time, that would certainly kill you. But we’re still not getting the largest possible explosion out of this book.

If you’re looking for a bigger boom, you will need to release ATYD’s nuclear energy.

All mass has energy: This book. Your coffee mug. The chair you’re sitting in. Everything. And when you convert mass to energy, you get big numbers very quickly. The atomic bomb that exploded over Nagasaki converted a single gram of mass (equivalent to less than half a page of this book) into energy. The trick is making the conversion happen. Fortunately, it’s not easy to do. The Nagasaki bomb used plutonium because plutonium is unstable and easily converts to energy. Books like ATYD are far more stable.

So it’s difficult to convert this book’s mass into -energy—​-but it is not impossible. The best way to accomplish it is to create a book of antimatter and combine it with your copy.[5] Then back away. Quickly.

Release this book’s nuclear energy and it would explode with the power of the largest hydrogen bomb the United States has ever detonated. You would get so hot, each of your atoms would break off, then your atoms’ electrons would be ripped off, and you would be scattered about the atmosphere as ionized plasma.

Creating that much antimatter is beyond our capabilities right -now—​-the most antimatter we have ever made is 17 nanograms (17 billionths of 1 gram) of antiprotons, and that took many years, so an exploding book is a problem for future generations.

The dreaded paper cut

But there are more realistic ways you could turn this book into a lethal -weapon—​-like turning a page too quickly.

A single paper cut could kill you. It has happened before. In 2008, an English engineer sliced a -quarter​-inch paper cut on his arm just before leaving on a trip to France. He soon developed flu-like symptoms, became weakened with fatigue, and grew delirious. He died in the hospital six days later from necrotizing fasciitis, a rare but nasty bug that infects through even the smallest wounds and cuts.

It is a hypochondriac’s worst nightmare.

Unbeknownst to you as you read a page, the necrotizing fasciitis bacteria could be living on your skin. If you’re hasty in turning the page and the paper slices your finger, the erstwhile harmless bacteria could gain entry.

Part of necrotizing fasciitis’s charm is that it lives within dead tissue that neither antibiotics nor white blood cells can access, and as the bacteria grows, it belches out a mix of exotoxins that kill your cells before your immune system can mount a defense. Without early intervention, you will progress beyond physical pain into severe sepsis.

Sepsis is your body killing itself in an effort to stop the invader. Your body reroutes so much blood that your heart won’t be able to send any to your brain. At first you will feel faint and confused as your brain sputters along on the bare minimum. As your blood pressure continues to drop it leads to multiple organ failure, most critically your heart. Once that fails your brain stops receiving oxygen and you die within a few minutes.

Without medical attention, the death rate for necrotizing fasciitis is 100 percent. Even with early medical care 70 percent die, making it more deadly than the Ebola virus.

Be careful as you turn book pages…

  • [1]That’s not true for all books, however. The second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary weighs 172 pounds, and if it was dropped from the Empire State Building its terminal velocity would be 190 miles per hour. That would crack your skull and snap your neck.
  • [2]While the average potato cannon is powered by burning hair spray, the greatest potato cannon ever made is also known as the Bernalillo underground nuclear test, which occurred in Los Alamos, New Mexico, in 1957. The U.S. military set off a smallish nuclear bomb underground and had a -high-​-speed camera trained on a large manhole cover that covered the well leading all the way down to the bomb. The camera took 160 photos per second, yet caught only one shot of the cover before it disappeared out of -frame—​-meaning it was traveling at an absolute minimum of 41 miles per second.
  • [3]Note that 1 food calorie is equal in energy to 1,000 theromodynamic calories, but in this chapter we’re referring exclusively to the food version.
  • [4]This is illegal, incidentally, as is any firework weighing more than 3 grams of gunpowder. Which means that legally the most of ATYD you’re allowed to grind up and explode is this page.
  • [5]What is antimatter? It’s complicated, but suffice it to say that every atom of matter has an “evil twin” of antimatter, and when a particle of matter touches its antiparticle, both vanish and are converted into energy according to Einstein’s equation E=​mc2.

And Then You’re Dead, a fun, gruesomely fascinating and scientifically accurate guide to some of the most bizarre ways to die is out now! Be careful with it. 

It’s laugh-out-loud funny in places, even if it can be rather gruesome, too. This is a fantastic book for the more gruesome science nerds in your circle of friends, certainly, but if you’re a writer looking to put some realism into your murder scenes, And Then You’re Dead is a wonderful book to meander through.
The Reviewers of Oz – 4.5/5 review

If asked to sum this book up in four words, they would be: hilarious, gruesome, informative, and terrifying! It’s brilliant, and you should definitely read it. It’s a brilliant resource for writers, those inquisitive about a variety of sciences, and those who want to laugh… It’s probably not the best for hypochondriacs, but then, you might be surprised at some of the things people could live through.
100% Rock Magazine – 9/10 review

This merrily macabre compendium playfully offers lessons in basic human physiology, nuclear fusion, quantum physics, and fluid dynamics, among other things, and at every turn, the authors explain the concepts cogently and with gleeful enthusiasm. . . . With bite-size morsels of astonishing science and the perfect combination of smart-alecky writing and black humor, this page-turner will surely debunk any misapprehension that science is dull.

Entertaining—if harrowing.
The New York Times Book Review

Hear The Skeptic Zone podcast talk to author & scientist Paul Doherty about the book below:

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