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The Explainer Paperback – March 9, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
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Top Customer Reviews
The book compiles some of the more intriguing questions from the past few years, such as Could Bill Clinton become president again? (The short answer is yes, but don't hold your breath.) Who can be buried at Arlington Cemetery? What happens if you don't answer the census questionnaire?
Slate's reporters, in response to reader questions and often their own curiosity, find experts in the appropriate field and ask the question. They make the expert explain the answer until they understand it, then write a short column explaining the answer to their readers. In this way, we learn how to pronounce Niger, how to become a weapons inspector, and what is Ovaltine, anyway.
The Explainer is a compact book that is fun to read in small doses or all at once. The explanations are only about a page or two each and clustered into about two dozen short chapters such as Dining Out, Medicine, Flight, and Death. Although I usually read the Explainer online, I thought I'd catch a few that I'd missed. Either I missed a lot of these explanations or I have a really poor memory. Regardless, I enjoyed reading these Explainer columns and look forward to more Slate publications.
(My favorite Slate feature is Bushisms.)
It's a fun book that you can read all at once or flip through to sections that interest you. Either way, you'll probably learn something new. It even has a section of questions that you want to ask but are afraid to, and no they're not sex related.
Eg. Money Laundering: What is it and how it's done. That's something I've wanted to know about but it's not really a great conversation piece.
*What exactly is Ovaltine?
*Can you patent common features of the Internet?
*Is there cocain on your money?
*What happens to recalled meat?
*Does the president need a passport?
This book is full of useful and of course useless trivia. It would make a great gift for any trivia junkie.
Another great example is the essay on how corking a bat helps a batter. One not only learns how a bat is corked and how it helps the batter's performance, but you also learn that a corked bat would probably DECREASE the distance of Sammy Sosa's hits. (This has to do with the physics equation p=mv, momentum = mass x velocity. Since a corked bat weighs less than an uncorked one, the momentum for a corked bat, assuming the same velocity for both, will be less than for an uncorked one.)
If you like trivia books, this is definitely a keeper; if you don't like the normal run-of-the-mill trivia books, you will probably like this one, since it isn't your standard question and answer book that lays out the facts without any cultural/political/real-life relevance. Who doesn't want to know what happens to your social security number when you die. Is it retired, or recycled? Read the book, and you'll find out.
Here's an example of the clear, effective writing with just a touch of panache that characterizes this modest volume. The writers are discussing how and why Supreme Court Justices recuse themselves (something Justice Scalia ought to do in the case before the court involving his good buddy Dick Chaney): "Since Supreme Court justices tend to be well off, and since lawyers often marry lawyers and beget more lawyers, money and family come up the most as reasons for recusal." (p. 172) In the next paragraph, we are given the probable reason that Scalia is not recusing himself: "In general justices are loath to recuse themselves from cases because it opens the way for a tie. When that happens, the lower court decision is affirmed by default." Hmm, maybe we can predict if a justice, leaning a certain way, is likely to recuse himself by looking at how the lower court ruled.
It is this kind of additional insight into the question at hand that lifts the people at Slate above some other "explainers" that I have read. Here's another nice example from the double-edged question, "How Does the US Mint Make Money?Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I found myself skipping over many questions that i didn't feel were very..interesting. I first got interested in the book when i saw a poll online for you to vote for the top... Read morePublished on January 2, 2009 by Elle
For some reason I've read several of these odd-trivia type books lately, this one is probably one of the best. It is concise, well-written, well-edited and interesting. Read morePublished on May 19, 2008 by Amazon Customer
This book covers practically every uncommon phenomenon known
to humankind. For instance, the authors explain how to slow down lava in a volcano. Read more