Most helpful positive review
124 of 135 people found the following review helpful
Documented Gallows Humor
on November 5, 2000
Before describing this book, let me just say that if you do not find death and mutilation humorous, avoid this book.
If you find fatal mishaps funny, you will enjoy the book greatly. In fact, this has to be the best book ever written about stupid ways to die and lose fertility. Anyone will feel smarter and better about themselves after reading these stories!
This book is about "celebrating self-removal of incompetent genetic material for the human race." In essence, the book proves that "common sense is not so common."
The book's premise is very well framed to put you in a humorous mood. The idea is that when people do stupid things that get them killed or keep them from having children, they thus perform a service by improving the gene pool for the remaining humans. Ms. Northcutt uses many witty quotes to emphasize this point, and establishes the mood well.
She has rules for these awards. To win the Darwin Award, you must (1) die or be unable to procreate, (2) show really bad judgment, (3) cause your own downfall, (4) have the ability to use sound judgment (are not permanently mentally impaired) and (5) have the incident verified by someone else. If you don't meet all these tests, you can still get an honorable mention, or be described as an urban legend or a personal account. I thought these distinctions made good sense, because the story's focus and credibility weighs heavily on the interest it creates for the reader drawn to this subject.
The stories are grouped around themes: comeuppances with animals, problems with relatives, criminal misadventures, problems with fire and explosives, fatal falls, military goofs, macho errors, unsafe sex, watery deaths, and genital-related stories. Some stories could have fit into four or more categories, so it must have been a challenge to fit everything into a group.
Here are a few of my favorite stories:
The couple who crashed their car driving at 80 miles an hour while having sex totally nude at the same time.
The chicken that fell down a well and was saved after six people drowned in the process.
The man who crushed out his cigarette in a pail of explosives, blowing them and him up.
The ex-firefighter arsonist who died while starting the fire that was designed to make him a hero so he could get his old job back.
The couple who left their car and went for a stroll amidst the tigers in an wild animal park, and served as tiger meat.
The man who threw his wife out the window where she stuck in some wires. He then jumped after her, missed the wires, and died. She was saved.
Three guys to stole a large pig, and strapped it in their truck. The pig's thrashing caused the truck to crash, and the three men died because they hadn't attached their own seat belts. The pig survived.
The man found nude, dead of hypothermia, in a killer whale pool at an amusement park.
The thief who had tilted a Coke machine to shake a free bottle out, and was crushed when the machine fell on him.
The woman who died of hypothermia and dehydration in a tent after starting a 21 day spiritual cleansing diet intended to free her from needing to eat food or drink liquids. She would get all of her nutrition from the atmosphere instead. You start with no food or water for 7 days, then go 14 days with only sips of water, then take nothing. Hmmm.
I rated the book down one star, though, because a lot of the seeming stupidity was probably related to partial accidents in stupid circumstances rather than complete intention. I found many of the stories possibly mischaracterized in this way. For example, one story has a man using electric current to kill fish. He then ends up in the pond (described as going in to get the fish) and dies from the current. Now, you can read that as not realizing that electric current could kill him, or you can read that as he accidentally fell overboard before turning the current off. Now, in either case, I don't recommend this as a way to fish, but the story doesn't ring true as the "funny" story it is portrayed to be.
I also suspect that a lot of these stories have an unreported connection to alcohol or substance abuse. The verification in many cases is after the fact or is in a publication (which may have an incentive to "improve" the stories to make them better, and sell more issues), which probably adds to the tendency for "stupidity" bias in the interpretations.
After you finish having a good laugh, I suggest that you consider how you may put yourself into a dangerous situation that could make you a candidate for this award. For example, do you ever drive or pilot a plane while under the influence? Do you ever go near open windows in high places when you are unsteady?
I suspect that most of us have some foolishness that we need to eliminate if we want to avoid these awards. In my case, I think I need to be more careful when using equipment. I tend to go the fast route, rather than the safest one. I'm going to slow down and be safer in the future.
May all of your "hang man" experiences be on paper!