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My Life as an Experiment

by A.J. Jacobs

Pub Date: Sept. 8th, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-4165-9906-7
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Esquire editor at large Jacobs (The Year of Living Biblically, 2007, etc.) continues his unique brand of immersion journalism.

The swift-moving collection holds together well, and though the author cultivates the persona of a nebbish, his style is crisp and often laugh-out-loud funny. He examines his love for organizing his days via archaic or eccentric principles, regardless of the confusion inflicted on friends, acquaintances and his long-suffering wife. “I’ve tried to understand the world by immersing myself in extraordinary circumstances,” he writes, and admits the addictive nature of the process, rather than the results. He capably translates these journeys into wry comedy, although he claims that “making life better in the end” is his secondary goal. Some of the participants in his experiments, however, may disagree, such as his son’s attractive nanny, who afforded Jacobs the opportunity to live the life of a beautiful woman—for which the author rather intrusively managed her Internet dating. Next, Jacobs discovered he could “outsource” every aspect of his daily life to companies based in India, apparently staffed by youthful overachievers who are pleased to take on the responsibilities of lazy Americans while presumably thinking, “How the hell did these idiots ever become a superpower?” After encountering a psychotherapist who advocates the cultish lifestyle of “Radical Honesty,” the author spent a month being compulsively truthful: “I had to do some apologizing post-piece, as you might imagine.” He also lived for a month like George Washington, based on the president’s surprisingly useful list of 110 “Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation,” and spent a month being completely subservient to his wife (which she felt was long overdue). Each chapter—some of which previously appeared in Esquire—is followed by a “Coda,” in which Jacobs assesses the experiment and its aftermath.

A lightweight but endearing and nimble look at how pursuing absurd extremes can illuminate the more mundane aspects of contemporary existence.