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 Chuck Bryant’s rapport as they guide the reader through 27 chapters of informative topics.
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.
Each of the 27 chapters of the book is devoted to a single topic.
- The History of Facial Hair: The Long and the Short of It
- Mr. Potato Head: America’s Toy
- Murphy Beds: The Bed That Tucks Itself In
- How to Get Lost: And Seven Ways to Stay Like That
- Mezcal: Not Tequila, Except When It Is
- John Frum and the Cargo Cults: When Prayers Are Answered in Paradise
- Backmasking: When Recording Backwards is Moving Forward
- Aging: Do We Gotta?
- The History of Income Tax: Honest Abe’s Other Legacy
- The Pet Rock: The Savior of 1975 (or the Dumbest Toy of the Best Decade)
- Cyanide Pills: They Kill You, and It’s the Pits
- Do(ugh)nuts: The History of America’s Snack Food
- The Jersey Devil: Hoo is the Monster of the Pine Barrens
- Demolition Derbies: Why We Love to Watch Things Go Boom
- Kamikaze: The Last Gasp of the Divine Wind
- Trichotillomania and the BFRBs: The Tics That Have Psychologists Scratching Their Heads
- Trillionaires: Are They Possible, and Who Will It Be?
- The SCUM Manifesto: The World Without Men Would Be Killer
- Roadies: The Little Guys of Big Concerts
- The Scotland Yard Crime Museum: Nothing to See Here
- Jack Kevorkian: Dr. Death and the Meaning of Life
- Well-Witching: The Ancient Art of Guessing With a Stick
- The First Gun(s): The Legacy of an Alchemical Accident
- Keeping Up With the Joneses: The Unwinnable Human Race
- Dog Smells: Canine Scents and Sense-Ability
- The Perfect Price is Right Game: A Stone-Cold Whodunnit
- Child Prodigies: Precocious Mimics or Tiny Geniuses?
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.)