Book Review: Earth (The Book)

A while back Jon Stewart and the other writers from the popular The Daily Show with Jon Stewart wrote a parody of high school Social Studies textbooks called America (The Book): A Guide to Democracy Inaction. That was a great piece of satire because it lambasted something most Americans were familiar with and it had a structurally solid skeleton on which to drape its parody. We all knew what he was talking about, or at least we knew we should know, which was often kind of the point. It had a target that was specific enough to structure a book around, but multifaceted enough to offer plenty of material. Earth (The Book) is also pretty funny in places, but not quite as much so as its predecessor, partially owing to the fact that it’s kind of a mess and doesn’t have much of a structure.

Stewart et al. cast Earth (The Book) as a guide for the benefit of alien visitors who arrive on our 3rd planet from the Sun after the human race has managed to annihilate itself in one way or another. Kind of a friendly guide book aiming to hit the highlights. None of us will be here to explain all the stuff they’ll find in the ruins, so it falls to this tome to explain not only the basics like Earth’s geology and weather, but also such inexplicable nonsense (to an outsider, anyway) like commerce, culture, religion, art, and science. Rather than large paragraphs of text, the book relies on a lot of gags derived from pictures, fake newsclippings, charts, photographs, and other visual aids with scattershots of text to go along with them. This being a Daily Show production, every page oozes irony, sarcasm, and humorous self-deprecation, and it often works. Noting on the page about film that “We called Hollywood the Dream Factory; unfortunately most people who went to work there ended up working at the Cheesecake Factory” is pretty witty, as is crediting Alexander Graham Bell as the inventor of “The Watson Summoner.” And there’s lots of stuff like that spread throughout the book.

Unfortunately, Earth (The Book) is fairly uneven, with a few too many of the jokes falling flat or relying too much on the same gag that you had just read a dozen pages earlier. The graphic-heavy nature of the pages also make the book tiring to read in long sittings, but you may get much better experiences out of it by just reading it a page or three at a time when you find yourself with a few spare moments. Whenever that might be. I’m not judging.

In the end, Earth (The Book) is worth reading if you’re a fan of Stewart’s (and probably more to the point, his writers’) brand of irony comedic self immolation. America (The Book) worked much better both as a concept and in execution, though, so if you haven’t read that one yet I’d start there.

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