Are you tired of world atlases that lie about how every country is full of scenic and cultural riches, with charming and friendly people? Wouldn't you like to see an atlas that tells the truth about how dreary and desolate the world really is, with 99% of the human population facing endless suffering and exploitation until their dying breath? Well the erudite social realists at The Onion have delivered an atlas that tells it like it is. For example, you were probably unaware that the leading cause of death in Tanzania is lion tipping, and that Georgia is even more Christian than the other Georgia. Of course The Onion is known for its subversively satirical humor, and here that cracked yet strangely intelligent worldview is applied to the Earth in a fashion similar to the historical coverage of their earlier comedy masterpiece "Our Dumb Century."
Sure some of the national entries in this atlas are built on thin stereotypes (Poland is subjected to never-ending Polish jokes) or cheeky one-issue gags that run out of steam (the entire entry on Jordan is about what a hottie Queen Rania is). But overall, Onion fans will certainly appreciate the depth of humor in this book, because to get the most out of the humor you need some real knowledge on geography and history (for instance, you'd have to know something about mapmaking to figure out why the entry on Greenland is so funny). Meanwhile, that Onion intelligence shines though, sarcastically, in entries for the most suffering countries on Earth (for instance, the genocidal slaughters in Rwanda and Sudan were peacefully resolved because you went to that rally), and there is sinister political satire in the entries for all the many countries that currently have wars going on. WARNING: Read this book with a magnifying glass, and a knowledgeable sense of satire. [~doomsdayer520~]
on April 30, 2008
Apparently social satire is not a popular topic among today's educators. Our son was suspended for three days from Junior high school for bringing this book to school and showing it to some classmates.
My wife and I did not go through the book in detail and realized (too late) that it does contain some offensive language, pictures, and racial references. It was a lot easier to find this offensive content after a school district employee spent an afternoon flagging all of the offending pages with post-its. In my opinion it was all (well mostly all) relevant social commentary, but offensive non the less.
We thought the punishment pretty extreme, given the offensive content is minimal compared to an episode of "South Park" or any version of Grand Theft Auto. I guess you can chalk this one up to bad parenting. Too bad really, as the book humorously attacks some pretty serious issues, it easily engages young adults, and promotes a lot of good discussion.
on April 27, 2008
This book is hilarious but it's also about as un-PC as it gets. If you're sensitive about that, it isn't for you. ODW is funny from cover to cover, and some of it is laugh-out-loud, in the manner of an insult comic's take on the world. The Onion cleverly and often outrageously exploits every national, ethnic, and cultural stereotype there is, both historic and present day. If you can get into that, don't miss this book, and don't miss a word of it including the tiny map notations. If insult comedy bothers you, and no corner of the globe escaped their merciless barbs, spend your money on something else.
I've bought 3 more copies as gifts for family members. When I showed them mine, they so enjoyed leafing through they couldn't wait to borrow it and show it to others themselves. I doubted I'd get it back, though, so I got them their own. It's a terrific gift, as long as you're sure you won't be inadvertently stepping on tender toes.
on November 8, 2007
As a big fan of the Onion, I eagerly anticipated the release of this book and admittedly had high expectations for it. Over the past couple of days I've spent about an hour or two looking through it (one doesn't "read" a book like this), and I've pretty much had enough of it. The quality of the material is just not very good when compared to the Onion's other books (that's to say the weekly, topical/"area man" material) and especially the brilliant "Our Dumb Century," which is the Onion's other "concept" book (which is really not that different; it just uses historical eras/events for material).
"Our Dumb World" can be easily compared to the Daily Show's "America: The Book"--especially since the Daily Show book has a whole chapter on the "rest of the world." It's almost like the Onion took the "International House of Horrors" chapter from that book and bloated it out into 200 "dense" pages of mediocre, painfully obvious jokes about every country in the world. Have you ever noticed how the word "dense" can have two meanings? So much of the book is this level of humor, based on these kinds of observations: southerners are stupid racists, the Irish are drunks, and "thank God I don't live in Africa." (I imagine that there must have been at least some discussion over how to address the subjects of genocide, poverty, and famine prevalent in so many regions of the world in a comedy book. Apparently those pitching for the photo-shopped "children feasting on the carcasses of the dead" images were more persuasive in these discussions.)
Ask yourself: What makes the Onion funny? What do its writers do well?
Then think about whether a 200+ page atlas parody could possibly be an effective vehicle for these strengths. I actually think that this book is about as good as it possibly can be based on the inherent weaknesses of the idea. So many of the pages are filler material and endless variations of the same jokes... and jokes that were already made much more elegantly, tastefully, and effectively in the Daily Show's "America: The Book."
I think that "Our Dumb World" may actually appeal more to casual readers (or those unfamiliar with the Onion), than to actual fans that expect a high standard of humor and who know how good its writers can be.
on November 14, 2007
Have a quick flick through this book and you might think it was a Dorling Kindersley world gazeteer. It has all the DK appeal: well produced maps and state flags, interesting photos plus very clean layouts and typography but as soon as you start to read the words you realise you're on planet Onion.
The two hundred and two countries mostly get a page each with two pages given to topical (in the American sense) nations like Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, North Korea or Cuba for instance. Pages 207-209 covers The Stans: Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakstan. Did you know this last nation has a space programme? Probably not but there is a photo of a rocket strapped to the back of a donkey to prove it.
The two pages on Nigeria kick off with a page email: REQUEST FOR URGENT ASSISTANCE. Dear Reader, WE NEED YOUR HELP May the blessing of God be... and so on in the usual 419 scam prose. The sub-head under Chile says: 'Preventing Argentina From Enjoying The Pacific Ocean Since 1818'. It's this offbeat quirky copy that has made The Onion rightly famous and this book contains page after page of it.
As with a real atlas you're not meant to read it all but this is one of the Onion's better efforts and with its high production values I think this will be a well-thumbed book.
on November 14, 2007
For people who are unfamiliar with "The Onion", it is a publication of made up stories presented in news print that circulates in major metropolitan areas of the US. This is not a factual atlas so people who buy it as reference are sure to be disappointed. This is probably the funniest book I have come across in a long time. I can turn to any page and find side splittingly funny content. Others may not share my taste and may even find some of the content offensive.
I bought the book after listening to the audio cd (which is extremely well done, but goes through a lot less regions than the book).
For someone who is skeptical, turn to any page (preferably about a country or region you have interest in or know something about). The layout is amazingly simple. The book is devided by regions (US, South America, Europe, Asia, Middle East Asia etc). The punchline is right at the top of the page. There is a map, not detailing geograhic landmarks, but making humurous and intelligent observations about the region.Each page has "facts about the region" (national pastime, conflicts etc), history and pictures with subtitles. While there is is little in terms of actual facts, one does learn something about each region (albiet twisted for the sake of humor and extremely exaggerated).
This is just about the perfect book for someone who likes to be entertained, has a short attention span and does not have time or interest in reading books in general
Mine never came with the "Free Globe Inside" promised on the cover, but I bet it was stolen from my copy which I borrowed from the library. It's a challenge to take on around two hundred countries, maps, flags, and funny little photos and keep you not only amused but educated-- at your own ethnocentricity, ignorance, half-baked notions of everywhere else outside a hundred miles from where you live, and those hazy regions where what passes here for fact actually makes sort of sense. Madagascar's ruled by lemurs; Taiwanese labor under a perpetual sense of second-class diligence; Western Sahara's Africa's success story thanks to its inhabitability; Andorra's a giant retail outlet. Uruguay could be Paraguay, Chile's too skinny, and Delaware stays a state only to warn the Federal government not to make that mistake again.
It's best to peruse this a few pages at a time, then to give it a rest. Like reading "The Onion" itself, the humor's certainly unrelenting, but the snarky, ironic, and half-erudite, half-idiotic tone verges both on brilliance and sarcasm in copious amounts of one-liners, cartographic captions, and haughty, sophomoric text. It's instructive to have your own lack of education and information overload tossed back at you, from places you barely know on real maps, and as ignored footnotes in textbooks. You'll find such reading habits excoriated when you get to San Marino!
My ancestral land, I found, after centuries of British subjugation, "has at last managed to beat the stereotype of the poor, drunken, fighting Irishman to a bloody pulp." (141) Across the Northern border, I can attest to the veracity of this claim: the people there "are envied for their beautiful accent, a lyrical brogue that reminds many listeners of an aggressive, expletive-ridden poem." (140) Meanwhile the "Leading Cause of Death" remains, post-ceasefire, apparently "going to the pub."
Elsewhere, in my home state, "at least it's sunny." I agree with what the experts here say. San Francisco's the "alternative-lifestyle capital" where you find thousands of young men "living openly off trust-fund money wherever you look." My hometown "is home to some of the kindest and most outgoing people in the world until they realize you're not an agent." If you break into showbiz, you face "the biggest acting role" of your life: "pretending like nothing is wrong while everything around you turns to" #$*%. (022)
Mexico's frontier's charted, where "dozens of Americans" can be found "crossing the border in hopes of escaping work." (025) Hungary's "porn name" is "Gary Hung," while a student can be found mapped fantasizing about his hot teacher "giving legitimate algebra lesson for once." (171) It's better in these places than Africa. The map of Senegal shows where "major imports are peanuts and pretzels" may lead to unrest. Neighboring Gambia's migration pattern similarly causes challenges: "More citizens leave the shallow end as they get older." (104) Lesotho's history's pithy: the original inhabitants "are now dead." (064) The Democratic Rep. of the Congo does track the abyss where humor collapses into misery, and even the writers pale at what they find in the "Home to the world's most horrifying ventriloquist act." (069)
This clash of pampered Western sensibilities and Third World pain makes the atlas, in this section, less lighthearted and more Swiftian in its take on human frailty and geopolitical savagery. Niger's "only available form of birth control remains pregnancy." (097) Malaysia finds the spot where a "Muslim environmentalist" can be tracked "chaining wife to tree." (223) Vietnam hosts a "POW who still thinks U.S. lost the war." (219) But, there's a 20-square-mile "Impossible-to-Satirize Zone." Iraq does not have one yet, but you can plot their "Coalition Troops Welcome-Back Center." (123)
India's introduced as a place where "they fix slow Internet connections while standing waist-deep in sewage, reassure anxious customers that everything will be fine with their hard drive between cholera-induced fainting spells, and listen to iPod-related complaints while fending off giant football-sized rodents." The next page shows the place where you may meet a "librarian with dislocated hip filing Kama Sutra under fiction." (109) Out of such contrasts, indeed, humor and satire and insight into where Wests and Easts, Norths and Souths meet but fail to connect enriches this book, which rewards the browser with thought-provoking cleverness as well as insipid puns, sublime comedy, and lots more flag-related quips than you or I could have come up in a thousand all-nighters in a dorm room or campus watering hole.
Since I enjoy atlases and Maps, as well as the Onion web-site, this atlas caught my attention in my latest trip to a local bookstore. It has the look of the many family/student atlases out there, with plenty of pictures, individual country maps, "historical" data, and specific customs. Most countries have 1 page allocated with plenty of Onion-style descriptions and less than politically correct jokes. If you want to learn geography or history from this atlas you may be up for a surprise. If enjoy sarcasm, then this atlas is for you. For example the State Bird of West Virginia is the Dead Canary (reference to the state's mines). On the map of North Dakota the only comment states "Nothing there". While Alabama is part of the Shoe-less region, Georgia is part of the Shirt-less region. Visit Costa Rica where everything has either a Remax or a Century 21 sign. Or go to narrow Chile for the Argentina to Pacific jumping contest. In case of war, the French flag can have the blue and red detached, so the white stands out.
on November 19, 2007
The journalist jesters at the Onion have turned their attention away from the events of the day long enough to tell us a little more about the world we live in. Since this is the Onion, you're not going to come away knowing the chief export of Chile or the most populous city in Uzbekistan. It's not like you'd remember that stuff anyway. Instead, you get a description of Afghanistan as "Allah's Cat Box," and that's hard to forget
As with their take on the news, the Onion writers realize that an atlas isn't so much a collection of facts as it is an attempt to try to make the world make sense from a particular perspective. No matter how neutral an atlas writer thinks they are being, they are in fact comparing and even judging the entire world in opposition to their home culture.
By bringing the bias right to the front and pushing the less important trivia of facts to the rear, The Onion creates a book that is not just more entertaining than your average atlas, but may in fact be a more useful resource in conveying the world we live in then any atlas before it.
When talking about a news source as reliable as the Onion, one can only quote the equally reliable new source -- Wikipedia. Here's what they say about Jesters:
"In societies where the Freedom of Speech was not recognized as a right, the court jester - precisely because anything he said was by definition "a jest" and "the uttering of a fool" - could speak frankly on controversial issues in a way in which anyone else would have been severely punished for, and monarchs understood the usefulness of having such a person at their side."
I think the ability to recognize the seed of truth in the middle of the message of the fool is a skill more of our leaders could use.
And to top it off, the book is funny as hell.
on October 20, 2008
This paperback edition of the 2007 hardcover version of Our Dumb World contains "30% More Asia"! If only high school geography was this sarcastic and realistic, maybe Americans would know exactly where the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, or Jordan are, but as it is, geography is so dull that Our Dumb World brings a breath of fresh air and levity to our world. Laid out like a regular Atlas, you see the land mass, flag, facts and major contemporary details about each country.
Taking after their irreverent humor that their weekly newspaper elicits, with headlines that could read: "Florida fallen off Continental Shelf, orange juice production low, adult diapers high," this Atlas pokes jabs at every major country as you guffaw your way around the globe. Even the most uptight, humorless individual would read these pages and laugh. Everyone has heard of Palestine, but has it been thought of in the context of, "On 24-Hour Suicide-Bombing Watch"? Or Yemen & Oman, "Doing Terrorism's Grunt Work." These are all headliners that sum up a specific land mass pretty adequately with that snide Onion `we know you love reading us because we're such good writers of cynicism.' This book delivers a good belly laugh and perhaps even some education thrown in for good measure.
Armchair Interviews says: Beautiful layout, well written, and funny. A must have for your high school student; then you can borrow it.