Before the Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe and What Lies Beyond, Laura Mersini-Houghton, Mariner Books, 2022, $27.99

Inspired by quantum entanglement and wormholes—the latter of which they clumsily explain with a pen running through a paper folded in half—Marvel blockbuster films have helped familiarize the public with the concept of the multiverse. Although it might seem like science fiction, the notion of a multiverse is central to Laura Mersini-Houghton’s Before the Big Bang, as is her fondness of what she calls the “freedom to think for [herself].” Laying out questions about the universe’s origins through a series of personal stories, she argues that the multiverse theory is testable. Readers will likely be impressed by the intimacy with which Mersini-Houghton shares memories of her childhood in Albania, which laid the groundwork for her approach to the multiverse theory. —gd

What If? 2: Additional Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions, Randall Munroe, Riverhead Books, 2022, $30.00

A sequel to 2014’s What If? by Randall Munroe, author of the popular Web comic xkcd, Munroe’s latest book continues to address the multifarious questions posed by followers of his What If? blog. Using the latest scientific research and his trademark wit, Munroe responds to head-scratchers like the following: If a firefighter’s pole could be built from the Moon to Earth, how long would it take to slide down it? How many Wint-O-Green Life Savers are needed to create a lightning bolt? If everyone opened their fridge or freezer at the same time, would that lower the air temperature? Munroe’s simplistic, stick-figure-style illustrations enhance the amusing and informative text. —cc

Pentagons and Pentagrams: An Illustrated History, Eli Maor; ill. Eugen Jost, Princeton U. Press, 2022, $24.95

An entire book about two simple shapes? The thought of reading nearly 200 pages about pentagons and pentagrams might seem like the recipe for a snoozer, but Eli Maor’s new book, illustrated by Eugen Jost, is anything but boring. Geometry buffs will enjoy Maor’s beautiful annotations to Euclid’s proof of the construction of a regular pentagon. But Maor also delves into the cultural history of the pentagon, which has a special place in most societies because our hands have five fingers. Most medieval fortresses, for example, were built in the shape of a pentagon because the five-sided construction encloses a space larger than a square of equivalent perimeter while also reducing the “dead zones” at the corners where attackers could shelter from defenders’ fire. —rd