Don't be fooled by the title: this is not one of those compilations of quick summaries that help students save face on exams. In fact, Nagan's witty travesties will do a disservice to anyone who wishes to get the gist of The Divine Comedy or Crime and Punishment without plowing through hundreds of pages on his own.
Shielding himself behind a mock epigraph from Tolstoy (who supposedly declared that "I will never write such wordy trash again," after completing War and Peace), Nagan (who writes for A Prairie Home Companion) embarks on the noble mission of shortening great novels to five-minute parodies. The burlesque tone is set from the very beginning, with Nagan's admonition that the classics be read for two reasons: to understand personal misery and death in a broader context, and to impress people in conversation. His selections include 15 works by ancient and modern authors, ranging from Homer to Kerouac, representing genres from epic to science fiction. Nagan maintains original versified forms when possible, skipping over any "troublesome parts" and making up the rest. Before each parody we are offered a zany autobiographical sketch of the author, where fact and fiction are mixed into a tongue-in-cheek cocktail. Dostoevsky is introduced as a "devoutly pious Russian Orthodox Catholic" who was always loyal to the czar and was therefore arrested, executed, and exiled to Siberia. Punning adds to the playfulness of the book, as when Nagan explains that the emancipation of Russian serfs was a failure because there were too few surfers in the country in 1861.
Even if you are not familiar with the parodied material, you are sure to enjoy Nagan's biting style and grotesque interpretations of the most sacred texts of Western culture.