Book Review

Stuff You Should Know: An Incomplete Compendium of Mostly Interesting Things

by Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant
Flatiron Books
Stuff You Should Know: An Incomplete Compendium of Mostly Interesting Things

Stuff You Should Know: An Incomplete Compendium of Mostly Interesting Things is a cheeky factbook of unusual trivia. Written by the hosts of the insanely popular podcast by the same name, Stuff You Should Know recreates, in written form, the playful energy of Josh Clark and Charles W. (Chuck) Bryant’s rapport as they guide the reader through 27 chapters of informative topics.

Stuff You Should Know, Chapter 10: The Pet Rock, by Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant

On each episode of their podcast, Josh and Chuck attempt to provide a foundational understanding of the subject matter—with varying degrees of accuracy. They are professional researchers, not experts on the topic at hand. But the allure of the podcast is found mostly in the chemistry between them, their frequent tangents and pop culture references, and the care they take to treat potentially sensitive topics with respect.

The book is the result of folding the goodness of the podcast into a rather nice-looking stack of pages and giving it an ISBN. The pages themselves have a nice feel to them as you’re flipping through the black and red text and illustrations. The illustrations throughout the book are the work of Carly Monardo. Writer and editor Nils Parker also contributed to the writing of this book.

Stuff You Should Know, Table of Contents, by Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant

Each of the 27 chapters of the book is devoted to a single topic.

  1. The History of Facial Hair: The Long and the Short of It
  2. Mr. Potato Head: America’s Toy
  3. Murphy Beds: The Bed That Tucks Itself In
  4. How to Get Lost: And Seven Ways to Stay Like That
  5. Mezcal: Not Tequila, Except When It Is
  6. John Frum and the Cargo Cults: When Prayers Are Answered in Paradise
  7. Backmasking: When Recording Backwards is Moving Forward
  8. Aging: Do We Gotta?
  9. The History of Income Tax: Honest Abe’s Other Legacy
  10. The Pet Rock: The Savior of 1975 (or the Dumbest Toy of the Best Decade)
  11. Cyanide Pills: They Kill You, and It’s the Pits
  12. Do(ugh)nuts: The History of America’s Snack Food
  13. The Jersey Devil: Hoo is the Monster of the Pine Barrens
  14. Demolition Derbies: Why We Love to Watch Things Go Boom
  15. Kamikaze: The Last Gasp of the Divine Wind
  16. Trichotillomania and the BFRBs: The Tics That Have Psychologists Scratching Their Heads
  17. Trillionaires: Are They Possible, and Who Will It Be?
  18. The SCUM Manifesto: The World Without Men Would Be Killer
  19. Roadies: The Little Guys of Big Concerts
  20. The Scotland Yard Crime Museum: Nothing to See Here
  21. Jack Kevorkian: Dr. Death and the Meaning of Life
  22. Well-Witching: The Ancient Art of Guessing With a Stick
  23. The First Gun(s): The Legacy of an Alchemical Accident
  24. Keeping Up With the Joneses: The Unwinnable Human Race
  25. Dog Smells: Canine Scents and Sense-Ability
  26. The Perfect Price is Right Game: A Stone-Cold Whodunnit
  27. Child Prodigies: Precocious Mimics or Tiny Geniuses?
Pet rock illustration, Stuff You Should Know, by Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant

Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant are both excellent writers, and they have a knack for making complex topics accessible and entertaining. The book is full of interesting facts and anecdotes, and it’s sure to leave you with a newfound appreciation for the world around you.

One of the things that makes Stuff You Should Know so enjoyable is the authors’ sense of humor. They’re not afraid to poke fun at themselves or their subject matter, and they always manage to keep things light-hearted, even when they’re discussing serious topics.

Another thing that makes the book stand out is the breadth of topics covered. There’s something for everyone, whether you’re interested in science, history, technology, or pop culture.

Overall, Stuff You Should Know is an excellent book. It’s informative, entertaining, and thought-provoking. This book is simply a joy to flip through. You can read it cover-to-cover or as independent chapters. It certainly makes a great coffee table book. Along with a handful of charming illustrations in each chapter, many chapters also contain rather unique tables and charts. If you enjoy random trivia, witty banter, and playful visuals, I recommend Stuff You Should Know. (And check out the podcast, too.)

Stuff You Should Know, by Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant, facial hair types chart Stuff You Should Know, by Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant, illustration of cyanide occurring naturally in fruit pits Drawing of a sailor eating doughnuts, Stuff You Should Know, by Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant Illustration: phrenology of a criminal mind, Stuff You Should Know, by Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant