Tuesday, September 06, 2011

AJ Jacobs Trilogy

I recently completed reading AJ Jacobs 3 books (to date).  Since I'm pretty lazy, I'm combining all 3 reviews into one big, magical review.
Several months ago I read The Guinea Pig Diaries, the basic premise of which is that he would spend a month or so experimenting with a new lifestyle or behavior and see what effect it would have on his life and those around him. 

A couple examples:  my favorite, in one chapter he outsources his life. He hired some personal assistants to respond to his emails, answer his phone calls, do his shopping, read bedtime stories to his children, argue with his wife, etc.  In another chapter, he practices 'radical honesty' which basically entails not just telling the truth 100% of the time, but going one step further and removing the filter between your brain and your mouth and simply saying whatever pops into your head.

Not only is the subject matter interesting, but AJ presents it in an entertaining manner.  He's got a great sense of humor and weaves a lot of personal anecdotes into his narrative, effectively demonstrating the utility, or lack thereof, of the experiments.  You really get a good idea of how people will/do react to an unfiltered mouth, or how a spouse would/does respond to being referred to a personal assistant.  AJ definitely steps out of the theoretical and jumps into practical application with both feet.

Having thoroughly enjoyed the Guinea Pig Diaries, I followed it up with The Know It All.  In an effort to learn all there is to know, AJ embarks on a quest to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica and shares the journey along the way.  This was his first book, and it shows.  It has it's moments but overall lacks the polish and fails to captivate in the way his later books do.  As you may have guessed based on the subject matter, it is a little dry.  This book comes across as you would imagine one penned by Cliff Clavin would.  There are some interesting facts, but a lot of the book is just tedious. 

Finally, I made my way to The Year of Living Biblically.  Like his other books, this is an account of a sociological experiment.  This time he undertakes spending a full year following the bible as literally as possible.  I really admire him for his dedication in taking the assignment so seriously.  At the risk of sounding like a broken record, he goes all in.  In addition to growing a full, bushy beard and walking the streets of New York for months donning old testament garb, he goes so far as to stone an adulterer.  Don't worry though, the guy had it coming.

This book is amusing at times, but what I really found interesting was his earnestness in truly trying to not just follow a set of rules, but to understand the mind set of people with very different views from his.  A liberal agnostic, he could have used this as an opportunity to mock the religious but instead attended church and prayed with snake handlers and invited a Jehovah's Witness to his home and had a frank and genuine conversation with him until said Witness had had enough and called it a night.  The effort put into this book is admirable, and it really is a valuable insight into the mind of someone truly trying to understand an opposing viewpoint.  The world would be a better place if more people put in the effort into understanding others.  The Year of Living Biblically was well worth the time to read.
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