John Hodgman is a busy man. And, on the strength of the published evidence, including this new book, a very strange man indeed.
Perhaps best known as the milquetoasty but oddly self-satisfied PC in the Apple commercials, Hodgman is a writer of considerable charm and much merit. As with More Information Than You Require (2008) and Areas of My Expertise (2005), this odd little volume delights in being…well, if not wrong, then bizarrely inventive, and rock-solid in the assuredness of the justice of his cause. Take this specimen, riffing on the old saw “You don’t have to be crazy, but it helps” (which Hodgman willfully misquotes to serve his murky purposes): “Well, guess what? The guy who made up that slogan probably made a million dollars, because it was very popular, and he printed it on food during the Great Depression.” Let us count the ways in which that is wrong—and also very funny. Which is entirely the point: Hodgman, a sometime colleague, aims to outdo Jon Stewart’s America and Earth book empire with sheer outré exuberance, and he succeeds at every step. Exhibit A: Everyone wants to be rich in America, right? Well, counsels Hodgman, that won’t happen, because “the billionaires who actually control the world would not allow it.” But what’s to stop you from believing you’re filthy rich, and who’s to say you’re not? That’s the glory of modern life—and because we live in a land of opportunity, strange and unpredictable things happen, which is just the reason, Hodgman asserts, that Wilt Chamberlain had to hire a “special sex butler.” Bad math, bad facts—it all adds up to what Jean-Paul Sartre would have called bad faith. But Sartre’s dead, and it’s Hodgman’s world—and besides, Sartre never wrote half as convincingly about the impending apocalypse that will be Ragnarok.
Just the sort of book to keep by your bed—a bundle of knowing laughs, though at whom is ever the question at hand.