Review 12: The Areas of My Expertise

The Areas of my Expertise by John Hodgman

FACT: Yale University enforces its will on the world via a capella singing groups.

FACT: There as been only one murder on the space shuttle, and Sally Ride used her deductive prowess to determine that only the Indian fakir could have performed the deed.

FACT: President Herbert Hoover built a pneumatic army, designed by Nikolas Tesla. to defeat the Hobo Uprising of 1932

FACT: Oregon seethes in its confinement, inflicted on it by President Polk’s geographimancers after it threatened to take over land as far east as Illinois.


Probably not.

You should feel grateful that we have John Hodgman and his compendium of World Knowledge to shed some light on the secret history of the United States, the habits of werewolves, the hidden horrors of the Mall of America and many other educational and illuminating topics.

The book is set up in the manner of an almanac of old, but whereas books such as “Poor Richard’s Almanacs” dealt mostly with mundane things such as harvest times and moon cycles, this book addresses so much more. There is Information You Will Find Useful in the Present, such as the best places to find crabs, how to build a snow fort, and the fifty-five dramatic situations. There is Information Concerning the Future, with a full chart of Omens and Portents so that you may be prepared for the inevitable merman attacks, roving cocktail gangs, and, of course, Ragnarok.

If you’re fond of United States trivia, there’s a section in there for you, and if you’ve ever wondered about the secret societies of actuaries, you will be illuminated by this book. You can learn how to win a fight, short words used on submarines to preserve oxygen and, of course, which presidents had hooks for hands (hint: it’s not who you think.)

Of course, the most famous and important section of this book is the section entitled “What You Did Not Know About Hoboes,” and I can guarantee that the information in this section will come as a surprise to most people not versed in Hobo history. There you will find out how the Hobo kings and queens come to power, what the secret agenda of these rail-riding, lint-collecting itinerants is, and learn the all-important 700 Hobo Names – invaluable for Hobo hunting or, should you be seduced into a life of riding the rails, choosing a proper name for yourself.

I first saw John Hodgman on The Daily Show, where he was promoting this book, and nearly soiled myself laughing. He has a completely guileless face, and delivers his words with a tone that conveys the innocent delivery of common sense wisdom, like he cannot conceive of anyone disbelieving what he’s telling us.

As with any writing, it’s far easier to show than to tell. Here’s the clip from The Daily Show archives:

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Hodgman soon went on to become the show’s Resident Expert, where he brings his prodigious intellect to matters concerning net neutrality, elections, army recruiting and many other diverse subjects.

It really is a terribly funny book. It’s the kind of book that will make you laugh out loud and then wait for someone to ask, “What’s so funny?” so you can start reading the really good bits aloud to them. It’s a strange and wonderful history of the United States that actually ties itself together very well. While the information may not actually be useful, it it probably more entertaining than actually useful information would be. In this way, Hodgman says, it “allows each entry to contain many more truths than if it were merely factual.”

Very true.

“Truth may be stranger than fiction, goes the old saw, but it is never as strange as lies. (Or, for that matter, as true.)”
– John Hodgman

John Hodgman on Wikipedia
The Areas of My Expertise on Wikipedia
The Areas of My Expertise on
The 700 Hoboes Project

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Filed under almanac, humor, John Hodgman

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