By John Hodgman
Published October 21, 2008
Reviewed October 14, 2008
If you only know John Hodgman as the perennially outclassed PC of Apple’s “Mac vs. PC” ads, you are missing so much of who he is. If your knowledge extends to his recurring role as resident expert of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” you’re still only scratching the surface. And if you’ve gotten to his 2005 faux almanac “The Areas of My Expertise,” you know he captures the title of the most oddly brilliant writer in literature today.
And if you haven’t gotten to his new book “More Information Than You Require,” shame on you. Once again, Hodgman has written a book filled with made-up facts on subjects ranging from gambling to presidential elections to how he plans to spend his enormous wealth. The book is a direct sequel to “The Areas of My Expertise” in every way: it begins exactly where that book left off (page 237), has the same format of lists/predictions/hoboes and is once again a book you can’t read in public because everyone stares at you for laughing so hard.
The closest equivalents to Hodgman’s fiction-masquerading-as-truth style are The Daily Show’s “America: The Book” and Stephen Colbert’s “I Am America (And So Can You!),” but his books avoid being limited to one area of study. His topics oscillate between counting how many United States presidents have had hooks for hands (eight), the best way to cook an owl (goat sacrifice is involved) and racing hermit crabs for money (the winning strategy is to use trained falcons against the competition).
In the hands of a lesser author these facts would fall apart into babble, but Hodgman – a Yale graduate and professional literary agent – has a rare gift for holding it all together. He admits at the beginning that every single fact in the book is one he made up himself, and then goes on to state each one in a matter-of-fact tone, even supplementing them with footnotes that call back to facts even more patently absurd.
The footnotes help hold his structure together, as does the addition of a “Today in History” feature where every page has an additional fact about what happened during that day. These facts are more random than the rest of the book, though it does contain an interesting narrative on raining teeth and dead frogs on two major American cities back in 1981.
The overlay of multiple facts in “More Information” also means that it has endless potential for re-reading, as – for example – you’ve likely been so caught up in learning that you cannot eat oysters in months that lack the letter “R” (their screaming months) you missed the note that Amelia Earhart and Quetzalcoatl sit on the blood thrones and will soon judge us all.
Special mention goes to Hodgman’s section on the mysterious world of the mole-men, a follow-up to his previous anthropological study of hoboes (and the 700 accompanying hobo names that inspired the illustrations of e-hobo.com). It’s the most cohesive of the sections, building a narrative that reveals how the mole-men not only collaborated with Thomas Jefferson to write the Declaration of Independence, but they also access the surface world through Paris catacombs, ride a variety of hideous steeds such as dirt pumas and really like doing it “molely-style.”
And of course, the book contains 700 mole-man names sure to inspire another illustrative website. I eagerly await seeing artistic renditions of names such as Drew Danglemites, Tremont Crawsalong and Nick Nolte.
It’s prudent to start with “Expertise” (particularly to follow footnotes referring back to the first book) but doing so isn’t essential to enjoying “More Information.” In fact, nothing is essential to enjoying the book beyond simply opening it. It’s as Hodgman has been writing down all the random late-night conversations you’ve ever had thanks to drugs or boredom or sleep deprivation, and compiled them into one whole text – except he’s been far cleverer with it than you could ever hope to be.