The Onion has long been known as one of the snarkiest satirical rags around, first in its print form, and later as a website. They also put out damn books damn near yearly, either archives or original compilations of new material. Their latest, Our Dumb World is a fictional atlas.
After the success of Jon Stewart’s America: The Book, there is something to be said for humour books which explicitly take the form of education texts. In Stewart’s case, the form was a high school social studies textbook; in The Onion’s case, it’s an atlas, though lighter on maps and heavier on sidebars than a traditional atlas.
Grouped into sections like “North America,” “The Middle East,” and “Asia,” these regions are further divided into countries, and in the cases of America, even further into states. Each entry has a map with a meaningless legend, as well as meaningless text pointing to equally meaningless spots on the map. There is an introductory blurb of text, “Facts” at a glance, and a panel for the nation’s history, as well. In the top of the page are thumbnail images, sometimes accompanied by (humourous) explanatory text.
The Good: I’m blown away by the amount of effort it must have taken to compile this book; the image selection, the minutiae, the word choice. Since basically each single instance of text comprises a joke, it’s impressive that I don’t recall the writers ever specifically repeating a joke. This, in a book with what amounts to thousands of jokes.
Also, it’s funny. The Onion‘s writers have a mastery of satire and a keen grasp of the quirks of humanity.
The Bad: Some items got repetitive. Every entry in Africa, for instance, gave basically the same impression. The jokes were different, but the point the same. It is, in all likelihood, a valid point (i.e. many/most African nations are plagued by corruption, civil war, and poor infrastructure), but broad criticism delivered many times for individual constituents can get old. So can the tiny, tiny type, which began to give me headaches if I read too long.
The jokes could get pretty extreme. I realize they were always making a point (No “How can you fit 100 Jews into an ashtray” kind of jokes), and I was never offended, you might want to stay away if you’re got more delicate sensibilities. Actually, if you’ve got delicate sensibilities, you probably shouldn’t be reading anything by The Onion anyway, so perhaps the point is moot.