A chronological smorgasbord of culture--dedicated to the propositions that knowledge is icky medicine, and that, as we all know, a spoonful of sugar (here, weak jokes and corner-bar colloquializing) helps the medicine go down. The apparent goal of all this medicine-taking: defensive oneupmanship. So, for all those poor souls traumatized by their ignorance at cocktail parties, Veley expounds ""The One Idea You Need to Know"" from each period of history, as well as heavily cross-referenced ""Names You Should Know"" (with pronunciation guides) and ""What Not to Bother With."" If one can ignore the patronizing, heinous concept behind this folly, one can in fact admire Veley's rather graceful ability to compress so much into so little, and even enjoy a few of his pinheadings: ""Botticelli's figures are ""touched with just a shade of melancholy, as if they knew that this sort of sensual sport couldn't last."" But the only real entertainment that this ultimate act of condescension might provide is the game of What's Been Left Out. For instance, is it more important to know that Beethoven's (BAYtoe yen) father was an alcoholic singer than to know that someone named Mahler existed? Not half as useful as Stephen Potter--or a tenth as funny.