Saturday, January 15, 2011

Book Review: Earth (the Book): A Visitor's Guide to the Human Race [2010]

I confess, I picked up the audio version of Earth (a production of the Daily Show with Jon Stewart) because I was curious about how well they could translate such an image-heavy, textbook-style package into an audio format. It turns out that a huge amount of the content got lost in translation, but the audio book is a bite-sized (only three CDs) bit of humor that goes down easily and leaves virtually no lasting impression.

Earth is addressed aliens visiting our planet at some point after we have finally killed ourselves off by (in decreasing order of likelihood): ecological catastrophe, nuclear holocaust, pandemic, robot rebellion, rapture, black hole, shark-bee mutation, or alien invasion. My favorite other possibilities included "rising nitrogen levels leading to simultaneous mass auto-erotic asphyxiation" and "chocolate." Topics covered include geography, life, society, commerce, religion, science, and culture. The printed version is stuffed full of a dizzying variety of infographics, pictures, captions, bulleted lists, call-outs, and diagrams. In fact, the print version might best be consumed in small doses; I can't imagine trying to read it all the way through as if it were a normal book.

The audio version, on the other hand, is narrated with enthusiasm by Jon Stewart and the rest of the Daily Show cast, and it delivers the excerpted material with the flair and wit (wry asides + low humor) characteristic of the show. Some of the narration seemed so spontaneous that it was difficult to imagine reading it as printed text. A few of my favorite moments:

"Saturn: God liked this planet. So he put a ring on it."

"North America was Earth's newest continent, formed c. 1492."

"Mountains were the features on topographical globes that made our fingers feel all tingly. But in person they are foreboding death-towers that offered us little but hardship and, three months of the year, excellent skiing."

Grade: B- (in other words, better than I'd Rather We Got Casinos)

Random Thoughts:

This is the first time I've read a book where the audio version and the print version were almost completely different animals, and I'm not entirely sure I approve. I would really like to know the thought process behind what was stuck in the audiobook and what was left out, because paging through it seemed puzzlingly random.

Book Review Index
Dead Mother: No, the Earth is the only one left alive


jpetroroy said...

I started this in print, read about half before it was due, then didn't really get the urge to pick it up again. It was amusing, though. Not sure if I'd want to hear it on audio, though, since I really enjoyed the visuals. Nice review!

jpetroroy said...

However....narrated by Jon Stewart and The Daily Show cast does sound awesome.