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Review 62: More Information Than You Require


More Information Than You Require by John Hodgman

FACT: The Declaration of Independence was not the original creation of Thomas Jefferson, but was instead inspired by the work of Mole-Man declarationists.

FACT: The true sport of kings, and the only one of which a professional gambler will avail himself, is that of hermit crab racing.

FACT: Andrew Jackson was the first president to wear a necklace of human skulls at his inauguration.

FACT: The first moon landing was achieved in 1802, when Napoleon Bonaparte stepped onto the lunar surface with his conquering army. The horse skeletons are remarkably well-preserved.

WERE YOU AWARE OF IT?

Well, now you are.

In his first book, The Areas of my Expertise, John Hodgman claimed that he had provided us with “an almanac of complete world knowledge” that related matters historical, matters literary, matters cryptozoological, and of course, hobo matters, among many others. A read through this book, an almanac of interesting facts that were in no way, shape or form what is commonly known as “true,” was a demonstration of why fiction is inherently better than reality in that it is usually far more interesting. By the time you finished reading the book, he suggested, you truly would know everything you needed to know, regardless of whether it actually happened to be true.

So if the previous book was an almanac of complete world knowledge, why write another book? Surely complete world knowledge can’t be added to? Well, Hodgman addresses that question right away. What it comes down to is very simply that, in the few short years since the publication of The Areas of my Expertisenew things have happened. I know it’s hard to believe, and you may want to sit down and think about that for a moment.

Not the least of these new things is that Hodgman has become a famous minor television personality, which has gained him all the fame, riches and power you might expect. Following the publication of that book, Hodgman became a regular on The Daily Show and, of course, starred in the now-famous Mac/PC ads as the fuddy-duddy PC who puts up with the douchebaggery of the Mac.

Yeah, I really don’t like the Mac guy. But maybe that’s just because I really like Hodgman.

He has come down from the luxury zeppelin he bought from Emo Philips in order to provide us with more world knowledge – this time touching on what he has discovered about the okapi, the secret history of the Mole-Men, and the secret cult that lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn – an exclusive neighborhood that can be accessed only upon having reached the status of famous minor television celebrity. It’s a paradise, so long as you do not antagonize the children, who are allowed to kill you at their whim.

As with the previous book, this is a good piece of entertainment. Its jokes loop back and forth on themselves, referencing passages not only elsewhere in the book, but also on the pages of its predecessor (and for the sake of convenience, the page numbering for this book picks up where that of the previous book left off.) Its facts (or “facts”) are conveniently bolstered with handy charts and striking black and white photography that makes for a fascinating afternoon’s reading.

The intricate creativity that has been poured into building a bizarre alternate history of the United States is one that earns only the most sincere respect from me. Anyone with an imagination fertile enough to come up with things like Your Twelve Month Spleencast (a guide to telling the future using pig spleens (tip: it’s going to be pretty awful)), a Teddy Roosevelt List that puts Chuck Norris’ to shame, and a complete table of Brushes of Fame (with Hodgman as the famous person) deserves every cent I can give him.

One of his great regrets, as he tells us in this book, is that The Areas of my Expertise was never made into a page-a-day desk calendar. Such a mark of true success has only been reached by such luminaries as Gary Larson and the Secret Cabal of Crossword Puzzle Writers who are battling the Jumblemancers for control of the United States. In order that his second book might escape such ignominy, Hodgman has provided an interesting fact for each day of the year on each page. So, if you tear out the pages after reading them, voila! You have a page-a-day calendar. And some of the bits are truly inspired. The listing for September 11th, for example, shows why that day of all days is truly unforgettable.

But that is not all! Not yet, anyway. He is planning to continue his work into a third volume, due out whenever he manages to finish it. I assure you, Mr. Hodgman, I will be waiting eagerly for it.

It’s a strange type of humor, but then Hodgman is a strange type of guy. It’s the sort of thing that only he could pull off, lying in such earnest detail that you wish it were true only because it sounds just so much fun.

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“Despite the conspiracy theories you may have read, the mole-men have never interbred with the British royal family or the Bush dynasty with the goal of infiltrating the highest reaches of government so as to harvest the blood of our babies to power the spaceliners that will bring them to the next planet they plan to pillage from within. You are thinking of the Belgians.”
– John Hodgman, More Information Than You Require
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More Information Than You Require on Wikipedia
John Hodgman on Wikipedia
More Information Than You Require on Amazon.com
TheAreasofmyExpertise.com

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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.

WERE YOU AWARE OF IT?

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.

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“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
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John Hodgman on Wikipedia
The Areas of My Expertise on Wikipedia
The Areas of My Expertise on Amazon.com
The 700 Hoboes Project

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Filed under almanac, humor, John Hodgman