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"All of the historical oddities and amazing true facts contained herein are lies, made up by me — and it is this astonishing innovation that allows each entry to contain more truths than if it were merely factual... Truth may be stranger than fiction, goes the old saw, but it is never as strange as lies, or for that matter, as true. Proof of which maxim is the fact that I just made it up."
—from the audiobook introduction
An Almanac of Complete World Knowledge Compiled with Instructive Annotation and Arranged in Useful Order by Me, John Hodgman, a Professional Writer, in the Areas of My Expertise, which Include: Matters Historical; Matters Literary; Matters Cryptozoological; Hobo Matters; Food, Drink, & Cheese (a Kind of Food); Squirrels & Lobsters & Eels; Haircuts; Utopia; What Will Happen in the Future; and Most Other Subjects; Illustrated with a Reasonable Number of Tables and Figures, and Featuring the Best of "Were You Aware of It?", John Hodgman's Long-Running Newspaper Novelty Column of Strange Facts and Oddities of the Bizarre.
It is intelligent, absurd humour, and primarily a parody of Poor Richard's Almanack, written by Benjamin Franklin, and more broadly, a pastiche of almanacks and trivia books in general. In order to properly get every joke in it, you'd need to take a course. (In fact, one can imagine students in the far future doing so. ELL 321: Early 21st Century Comedy: John Hodgman).
The audiobook version, which in many ways is even more hilarious, is read by Hodgman in his trademark deadpan style. It also features Jonathan Coulton singing the book's theme song, the songs of the various American states, and generally acting as Hodgman's foil and straightman throughout.
This book provides examples (and parodies) of:
- Alien Geometries: One house with a 666 phone number is described as having no right angles.
- Ancient Conspiracy: Subverted: The Skulls and Bones are said to have failed in their bid for world domination, and now spend all their time masturbating and tending to the pterodactyls on their private island. The Masonic symbols allegedly hidden in Washington DC's architecture are also parodied.
- Attack of the Killer Whatever: Discussed.
- Beware of Hitch-Hiking Ghosts
- Brian Blessed:In the BBC adaptation, in the role of "Old John Hodgman, After He Accidentally Becomes British".
- Bunny Ears Lawyer: "Idiosyncrasies of the Great Detectives", parodying:
- Call a Rabbit a Smeerp: There was a species of otter called a "lobster", now driven to extinction by the New Lobsters. There's also a joke about how during the 1920s, when "gorilla" was a slang term for tough guy, the term for an actual gorilla was "mega-chimp"
- The Con
- One of which involves impersonating a Ninja, and requires, as part of the con, the summoning of Mons.
- Another requires several thousand people and the cooperation of the subject's family.
- Another requires control of the weather.
- And one requires a ferret.
- And one involves three-card monte. With a collaborator posing as the table.
- Contemptible Cover: Discussed in the Paratext.
- Cool Airship: President Hoover's hoveryacht in the Caspian Sea.
- Creepy Child: The Virtuous Child, Child Prodigies.
- Deadpan Snarker: "You know what?" I say. "Fuck you."
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin
- Flanderization: Our 51 United States.
- The Big Easy
- Down on the Farm
- Everything Is Big in Texas
- Hollywood New England
- Lost World: Hohoq (also known as "Ar"), the 51st state, also a floating plateau populated by thunderbirds, Magical Native Americans, and Germans, who appear to be "simply German".
- Viva Las Vegas
- The Windy City: Hodgman claims Chicago is only a myth.
- The Great Depression: What You Did Not Know About Hoboes.
- Historical In-Joke: Loads.
- The mountains of Colorado (state nickname: The Dwarrowdelf) are described as "large and fairly Balrog-free".
- When describing the correct manner of raising rabbits, Hodgman describes the phenomenon of El-Ahrairah worship
- When building a snow fort, "watch out for wampas."
- Repeated references to Doctor Who, including using a picture of Cybermen for "typical cyborg mischief".
- Repeated references to the Evil Dead series, such as the claim that George W. Bush has a chainsaw for a hand. John Hodgman was Bruce Campbell's literary agent, and Campbell is listed as an expert consulted on the subject of fake blood [likely not a joke].
- Joisey: Listed as the "Too-easy-to-Mock State".
- The Killer in Me / Jekyll and Hyde: Lord Miles Overstreet is Dr. Craig Kittles!
- Killer Rabbit: Squirrels.
- Long List: 700 Hobo Names. 800, in the paperback.
- Mascot: Discussion of breakfast cereal mascots.
- Mockumentary: In book form!
- Nonsense Classification: For example the column on "food, drink, and cheese", where there are "only so many kinds of foods to write about", namely "abs, polar bear steaks, chili, chili, and polar bear steaks."
- Pirate: Blackbeard pops up, briefly. There is also said to be a Utopian community that hopes to improve humanity through acting like stereotypical pirates.
- Planet of Steves: The ringtail cats, who, by a curious coincidence, are all named John McCain.
- The Roaring Twenties
- Running Gag: The different varieties of werewolf, masturbation, eels, zeppelins, cheese, haircuts/facial hair, distrust for people who use pseudonyms, Henry David Thoreau, giant Brazilian monkeys, Alexander Graham Bell, Yale University, crabs and lobsters (although the term "lobster" originally referred to a type of sea otter), the non-existence of Chicago, getting either "very high or very autistic", common flammable gels, Percoset, and, of course, the hoboes.
- Shout-Out: "The Amazing Duo of Flansburgh and Goldwasser", Bruce Campbell, "Skywise the Sexual Elf".
- Shown Their Work: Ironically enough.
- Serious Business: "If you wish for sports information, might I kindly refer you to every other aspect of our culture?"
- Take That: Parodied with the "attack ad" segments, in which he jokingly accuses Jonathan Coulton of being an awful catsitter, and another person of masturbating out a window on two separate occasions, while John Hodgman has only masturbated out a window once. Also, one of the Hobo Names is Nick Nolte.
- Weasel Mascot: Fig. 22: "Let's Use My Ferret To Steal That Diamond..."
- Whoopi Epiphany Speech / Children Are Innocent: Parodied with Hodgmina.
- Word Salad Title: The whole title.
- You Can Panic Now: One minor character is afraid that terrorists will attack the Mall of America.