THAT IS ALL, John Hodgman's Final Book of Complete World Knowledge

Photo by Brantley Gutierrez.

John Hodgman's third and final book of complete world knowledge, That is All, hits bookstore shelves today, 11/1/11. I hope you'll buy a copy, because you'll need it when Ragnarok occurs.

Oh, You Haven't Heard of Ragnarok?

That is All is predicated on the premise (ahem, CERTAIN KNOWLEDGE) that, starting quite soon, we will enter a pre-apocalyptic period leading up to the end of the world, or to be more specific, Hodgman's "COMING TOTAL ULTRACOLLAPSE OF CIVILIZATION AND END OF HUMAN HISTORY," but which may conveniently be referred to using the Norse term Ragnarok. You may think this is a joke, but it is deadly serious -- this really is the end, because indeed, Hodgman has finally decided to write about topics including WINE and SPORTS, which were dismissed in his previous volumes. The end is nigh, and it has a bouquet with hints of fruit, albuterol, and jokes. Here's a sample from early in the book (page 642) that precedes a section entitled HOW TO MAKE YOUR OWN WINE IN A TOILET, EVEN IF YOU ARE NOT IN PRISON:

Were You Aware of It? "Legalize It"

Though people have been making their own wine at home and in prison for millennia, the practice was outlawed in the United States as part of PROHIBITION--that brief, unfortunate period in American history when Steve Buscemi was a powerful sex symbol.

In 1978, however, Jimmy Carter knew the country needed to get drunk and so signed HR 1337 ("House Resolution LEET") legalizing the making of wine for personal use, as well as beer, hard cider, and HOME FOUR LOKO.

But many are not aware that Carter additionally passed HR U83R 1337, legalizing the home manufacture of RAW MILK CHEESES, CUBAN CIGARS, ABSINTHE, FUGU PUFFER FISH, MARIJUANA CIGARETTES, PEYOTE PATCHES, and PRUNO aka "PRISON TOILET WINE."

The result was an INTENSE MELLOWING of the U.S. population, with most football teams being replaced by wine bars,255 increased funding of pottery classes and pan flute in schools, and a wide swath of New Mexico being transformed into a NATIONAL CONVERSATION PIT. This in turn led to a counterintuitive economic boom, especially once the famous inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil invented the HEMP ENGINE, making American-grown marijuana the most important energy source on the planet.


However, while it remains illegal in this time sphere to make Pruno, that does not mean it is NOT INCREDIBLY EASY.

255. Baseball remained, but under the regime of new commissioner Dock Ellis, it was largely played by freelance magazine writers.

From this brief snippet, you get a taste of what there is for you in That is All, which is basically tons of jokes, some of which are already somewhat dated (by 2015, how many people will know what Four Loko was?) and many of which will lead to some heavy Googling (for example, to learn more about George Plimpton or leetspeak or The Singularity). The writing is refreshingly bite-sized, such that you can literally open the book to any page, read something, have a chuckle, and move on. Also, like the previous volume, each page includes a page-a-day calendar at the top -- except this one predicts the future, through the end of the world (it's called TODAY IN RAGNAROK). You have roughly a year left; you might as well enjoy it, one page at a time.

Here are two samples of the page-a-day calendar, from very early in the book:

December 26, 2011

Penguin Audio releases the Book of Revelation as narrated by Nick Nolte. It becomes an enormous bestseller.

December 27, 2011

Nick Nolte appears on The View to promote the Book of Revelation. When Joy Behar asks him what he thinks of all the 2012 end-time theories, Nick Nolte pulls back his beard and reveals his writhing second beard of feathered snakes. "These weren't here last year," he says. "What does THAT tell you?"

On Writing as Someone Other Than Yourself, But Using Your Own Name

Over the course of his three books of complete world knowledge, we've seen Hodgman develop an eponymous character, a faux-Hodgman who is the narrator of these books. In the first book of fake trivia (I'm sorry, "complete world knowledge"), The Areas of My Expertise, Hodgman refers to himself as a "former professional literary agent" (which is true) and the joke is that he's writing from a position of virtually no authority, but in an authoritative voice. (My apologies for explaining the joke, but sometimes you have to be explicit about these things.) You have to remember that at the time, Hodgman was a reasonably successful freelance writer (he wrote the "Ask a Former Professional Literary Agent" column for McSweeney's), host of the Little Gray Book lectures, and contributor to This American Life...but he wasn't exactly famous. So his position-of-no-real-authority character no longer made sense when it was time to write his second book, More Information Than You Require -- by that time, Hodgman was an "author and famous minor television personality" who was moderately well-known for his acting work in the "I'm a Mac" ads (he played the PC), as "Resident Expert" on The Daily Show, and lots of other gigs (including roles in Baby Momma, Flight of the Conchords, and most recently Bored to Death), and his first book had become a bestseller, largely due to a major sales boost after his killer first appearance on The Daily Show. So in the second book, Hodgman wrote from the perspective of a writer and actor whose fame was moderate, fleeting, possibly obtained by accident, but nevertheless had afforded him some form of status. In this final book of world knowledge, That is All, Hodgman enters his third act as "the deranged millionaire," a character who has experienced sincere wealth and status (the guy even met the president), but is now considering the possible end of it all -- the end of his status, the end of his acting career, the end of his relevance, and indeed THE END OF THE WORLD.

To make things even more complicated, Hodgman has actually been performing (with They Might Be Giants) as "The Deranged Millionaire" since 2005, long before he actually became either a millionaire or deranged.

As a "surprisingly successful freelance writer," I can personally identify with only the first persona Hodgman evokes, as I routinely have the opportunity (even here, now, in these words that I am currently writing) to reach an audience of "a lot of people" and feel that I must demonstrate some kind of expert status in my field. Like Hodgman, I fully expect to parlay this into some kind of mad bestselling romp ending in Ragnarok. Just you wait.

On Books of Lists

Hodgman's trilogy of complete world knowledge owes a lot to The Book of Lists (as Hodgman has discussed in interviews). As part of my job here at mental_floss, I routinely write lists, and indeed we're coming out with our own book of lists quite soon now. Hodgman has spent so much time perfecting the art of list-writing that I have to hand it to him -- this is top-notch listology. An example (from page 808):


• Jormungandr, the World Serpent, rises from the deep.

• Death of the Norse god Balder.

• The ravenous moveable forest awakens and feasts on blood.

• Nick Nolte reads the Book of Revelations.

• The Ten-Day Night falls.

• The lost Gumstone is found.

• Temperatures between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

• Humidity of about 60 percent.

• Winds out of the south, southeast.

This list is followed by a list of 700 "Ancient and Unlistable Ones." Yes, seven hundred. Due to clever layout, this only takes 20 pages and contains something like a thousand jokes (each name is itself a joke and there are countless meta-jokes inserted into the list by virtue of putting the joke-names in order).

Complete World Knowledge is Not Available in Ebook Format

The formatting of Hodgman's three books, with their tables, charts, images, and page-a-day calendar, makes them nearly impossible to translate into ebook format. Hodgman's website says: "An ELECTRONIC edition is something we are working on. As soon as we know how to make a PAGE-A-DAY CALENDAR on a PAGELESS DEVICE, we will get back to you." None of Hodgman's books are currently available as ebooks, which I actually find kind of satisfying. It's nice to know that these books are written to be books: physical, designed objects with a structure to them that means something (part of that structure being that you can flip easily to a random page -- something that's not super easy on most e-readers). Those of us who relish our print books and rage against the dying of the paper book format may take some satisfaction in knowing that these books currently cannot be digital. Perhaps someday someone will make an ebook of complete world knowledge -- but not now.

Interestingly, in his first book of complete world knowledge (way back in the stone ages of 2005), Hodgman suggested that the book itself contained a camera that would watch you as you read the book. This is now technically feasible on, for example, an iPad: it has a camera facing the reader. Oh boy. Good thing they're still working out the kinks on that ebook business.

The Audiobooks of Complete World Knowledge

The glory of the audiobooks of Hodgman's work is nearly impossible to describe. Frankly, the audiobooks of The Areas of My Expertise and More Information Than You Require are actually more fun than the physical books. They're packed with music, guest stars, and weirdly entertaining ways of cramming the books' unusual elements into audio form (this generally involves converting charts into conversations, reading tables using a mixture of female and male narration, along with a bell's chime to indicate the end of a row). Because Hodgman is such an excellent reader and performer, he makes the audiobooks so indelible that it becomes impossible to read the print books without hearing his narration. There is not yet an audiobook for That is All, but you can get the first two books on CD (or via Audible, or iTunes, or whatever) and enjoy a heck of a romp: The Areas of My Expertise (Amazon/CD) and More Information Than You Require (Amazon/CD). These are my favorite audiobooks ever, and that's saying something -- they're even better than the Jim Dale narration of Harry Potter. Yes, they're THAT GOOD.

Hodgman's website notes: "An AUDIOBOOK edition will be recorded SOMETIME IN THE FUTURE, but not before January of 2012."

Where to See & Buy Hodgman

He's on book tour, many dates featuring guest stars. If you can get to one with David Rees, he'll professionally sharpen a pencil for you! (Sorry, I had to get that in there. I blurbed the man's book, how else am I supposed to buzz-market my favorite pencil-sharpener?) You may also devote yourself to Hodgman's Tumblr, Twitter, or his excellent podcast. To buy his latest book, try Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, Powell's (also available signed!), or your local book retailer.

You may also enjoy this book trailer:

The End

It's fitting that That is All ends with a quote by Carl Sagan. Although the book is primarily jokes, there is a quality to Hodgman's writing that seems truly grateful for the opportunity to write a trilogy of complete world knowledge and become a deranged millionaire, famous minor television personality, and even former professional literary agent. In the greater scheme of things, Hodgman is aware that everything is fleeting -- youth, and fame, and success in writing books of fake trivia -- and thus, at its core, this is a book about the end of everything. With jokes. That is all.

Blogger disclosure: I wasn't specially compensated to write this review. I do have a proprietary interest in surviving Ragnarok, though, so I felt it prudent to review early galleys with great attention.

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15 Heartwarming Facts About Mister Rogers
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Getty Images

Though Mister Rogers' Neighborhood premiered 50 years ago, Fred Rogers remains an icon of kindness for the ages. An innovator of children’s television, his salt-of-the-earth demeanor and genuinely gentle nature taught a generation of kids the value of kindness. In celebration of the groundbreaking children's series' 50th anniversary, here are 15 things you might not have known about everyone’s favorite “neighbor.”


According to Benjamin Wagner, who directed the 2010 documentary Mister Rogers & Me—and was, in fact, Rogers’s neighbor on Nantucket—Rogers was overweight and shy as a child, and often taunted by his classmates when he walked home from school. “I used to cry to myself when I was alone,” Rogers said. “And I would cry through my fingers and make up songs on the piano.” It was this experience that led Rogers to want to look below the surface of everyone he met to what he called the “essential invisible” within them.


Rogers was an ordained minister and, as such, a man of tremendous faith who preached tolerance wherever he went. When Amy Melder, a six-year-old Christian viewer, sent Rogers a drawing she made for him with a letter that promised “he was going to heaven,” Rogers wrote back to his young fan:

“You told me that you have accepted Jesus as your Savior. It means a lot to me to know that. And, I appreciated the scripture verse that you sent. I am an ordained Presbyterian minister, and I want you to know that Jesus is important to me, too. I hope that God’s love and peace come through my work on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”


Responding to fan mail was part of Rogers’s very regimented daily routine, which began at 5 a.m. with a prayer and included time for studying, writing, making phone calls, swimming, weighing himself, and responding to every fan who had taken the time to reach out to him.

“He respected the kids who wrote [those letters],” Heather Arnet, an assistant on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2005. “He never thought about throwing out a drawing or letter. They were sacred."

According to Arnet, the fan mail he received wasn’t just a bunch of young kids gushing to their idol. Kids would tell Rogers about a pet or family member who died, or other issues with which they were grappling. “No child ever received a form letter from Mister Rogers," Arnet said, noting that he received between 50 and 100 letters per day.


It wasn’t just kids and their parents who loved Mister Rogers. Koko, the Stanford-educated gorilla who understands 2000 English words and can also converse in American Sign Language, was an avid Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood watcher, too. When Rogers visited her, she immediately gave him a hug—and took his shoes off.


Though Rogers began his education in the Ivy League, at Dartmouth, he transferred to Rollins College following his freshman year in order to pursue a degree in music (he graduated Magna cum laude). In addition to being a talented piano player, he was also a wonderful songwriter and wrote all the songs for Mister Rogers' Neighborhood—plus hundreds more.


Rogers’s decision to enter into the television world wasn’t out of a passion for the medium—far from it. "When I first saw children's television, I thought it was perfectly horrible," Rogers told Pittsburgh Magazine. "And I thought there was some way of using this fabulous medium to be of nurture to those who would watch and listen."


A Yale study pitted fans of Sesame Street against Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood watchers and found that kids who watched Mister Rogers tended to remember more of the story lines, and had a much higher “tolerance of delay,” meaning they were more patient.


If watching an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood gives you sweater envy, we’ve got bad news: You’d never be able to find his sweaters in a store. All of those comfy-looking cardigans were knitted by Fred’s mom, Nancy. In an interview with the Archive of American Television, Rogers explained how his mother would knit sweaters for all of her loved ones every year as Christmas gifts. “And so until she died, those zippered sweaters I wear on the Neighborhood were all made by my mother,” he explained.


Those brightly colored sweaters were a trademark of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, but the colorblind host might not have always noticed. In a 2003 article, just a few days after his passing, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote that:

Among the forgotten details about Fred Rogers is that he was so colorblind he could not distinguish between tomato soup and pea soup.

He liked both, but at lunch one day 50 years ago, he asked his television partner Josie Carey to taste it for him and tell him which it was.

Why did he need her to do this, Carey asked him. Rogers liked both, so why not just dip in?

"If it's tomato soup, I'll put sugar in it," he told her.


According to Wagner, Rogers’s decision to change into sneakers for each episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was about production, not comfort. “His trademark sneakers were born when he found them to be quieter than his dress shoes as he moved about the set,” wrote Wagner.


Oscar-nominated actor Michael Keaton's first job was as a stagehand on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, manning Picture, Picture, and appearing as Purple Panda.


It's hard to imagine a gentle, soft-spoken, children's education advocate like Rogers sitting down to enjoy a gory, violent zombie movie like Dawn of the Dead, but it actually aligns perfectly with Rogers's brand of thoughtfulness. He checked out the horror flick to show his support for then-up-and-coming filmmaker George Romero, whose first paying job was with everyone's favorite neighbor.

“Fred was the first guy who trusted me enough to hire me to actually shoot film,” Romero said. As a young man just out of college, Romero honed his filmmaking skills making a series of short segments for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, creating a dozen or so titles such as “How Lightbulbs Are Made” and “Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy.” The zombie king, who passed away in 2017, considered the latter his first big production, shot in a working hospital: “I still joke that 'Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy' is the scariest film I’ve ever made. What I really mean is that I was scared sh*tless while I was trying to pull it off.”


In 1969, Rogers—who was relatively unknown at the time—went before the Senate to plead for a $20 million grant for public broadcasting, which had been proposed by President Johnson but was in danger of being sliced in half by Richard Nixon. His passionate plea about how television had the potential to turn kids into productive citizens worked; instead of cutting the budget, funding for public TV increased from $9 million to $22 million.


Years later, Rogers also managed to convince the Supreme Court that using VCRs to record TV shows at home shouldn’t be considered a form of copyright infringement (which was the argument of some in this contentious debate). Rogers argued that recording a program like his allowed working parents to sit down with their children and watch shows as a family. Again, he was convincing.


In 1984, Rogers donated one of his iconic sweaters to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

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10 People Who Have Misplaced Their Oscars
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Getty Images

Winning an Oscar is, for most, a once-in-a-lifetime achievement. Unless you’re Walt Disney, who won 22. Nevertheless, owning a little gold guy is such a rarity that you’d think their owners would be a little more careful with them. Now, not all of these losses are the winners' fault—but some of them certainly are, Colin Firth.


After Angelina Jolie planted a kiss on her brother and made the world wrinkle their noses, she went onstage and collected a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Lisa in Girl, Interrupted. She later presented the trophy to her mother, Marcheline Bertrand. The statuette may have been boxed up and put into storage with the rest of Marcheline’s belongings when she died in 2007, but it hasn’t yet surfaced. “I didn’t actually lose it,” Jolie said, “but nobody knows where it is at the moment.”


In 2002, Whoopi Goldberg sent her Ghost Best Supporting Actress Oscar back to the Academy to have it cleaned and detailed, because apparently you can do that. The Academy then sent the Oscar on to R.S. Owens Co. of Chicago, the company that manufactures the trophies. When it arrived in the Windy City, however, the package was empty. It appeared that someone had opened the UPS package, removed the Oscar, then neatly sealed it all back up and sent it on its way. It was later found in a trash can at an airport in Ontario, California. The Oscar was returned to the Academy, who returned it to Whoopi without cleaning it. “Oscar will never leave my house again,” Goldberg said.


When Olympia Dukakis’s Moonstruck Oscar was stolen from her home in 1989, she called the Academy to see if it could be replaced. “For $78,” they said, and she agreed that it seemed like a fair price. It was the only thing taken from the house.


“I don’t know what happened to the Oscar they gave me for On the Waterfront,” Marlon Brando wrote in his autobiography. “Somewhere in the passage of time it disappeared.” He also didn't know what happened to the Oscar that he had Sacheen Littlefeather accept for him in 1973. “The Motion Picture Academy may have sent it to me, but if it did, I don’t know where it is now.”


Jeff Bridges had just won his Oscar in 2010 for his portrayal of alcoholic country singer Bad Blake in Crazy Heart, but it was already missing by the next year’s ceremony, where he was up for another one. He lost to Colin Firth for The King’s Speech. “It’s been in a few places since last year but I haven’t seen it for a while now,” the actor admitted. “I’m hoping it will turn up, especially now that I haven’t won a spare! But Colin deserves it. I just hope he looks after it better.” Which brings us to ...


Perhaps Jeff Bridges secretly cursed the British actor as he said those words, because Firth nearly left his new trophy on a toilet tank the very night he received it. After a night of cocktails at the Oscar after-parties in 2011, Firth allegedly had to be chased down by a bathroom attendant, who had found the eight-pound statuette in the bathroom stall. Notice we said allegedly: Shortly after those reports surfaced, Firth's rep issued a statement saying the "story is completely untrue. Though it did give us a good laugh."


When newbie writers Matt Damon and Ben Affleck took home Oscars for writing Good Will Hunting in 1998, it was one of those amazing Academy Award moments. Now, though, Damon isn’t sure where his award went. “I know it ended up at my apartment in New York, but unfortunately, we had a flood when one of the sprinklers went off when my wife and I were out of town and that was the last I saw of it,” Damon said in 2007.


In 1945, seven-year-old Margaret O’Brien was presented with a Juvenile Academy Award for being the outstanding child actress of the year. About 10 years later, the O’Briens’ maid took the award home to polish, as she had done before, but never came back to work. The missing Oscar was forgotten about when O’Brien’s mother died shortly thereafter, and when Margaret finally remembered to call the maid, the number had been disconnected. She ended up receiving a replacement from the Academy.

There’s a happy ending to this story, though. In 1995, a couple of guys were picking their way through a flea market when they happened upon the Oscar. They put it up for auction, which is when word got back to the Academy that the missing trophy had resurfaced. The guys who found the Oscar pulled it from auction and presented it, in person, to Margaret O’Brien. “I’ll never give it to anyone to polish again,” she said.


For years, Bing Crosby's Oscar for 1944’s Going My Way had been on display at his alma mater, Gonzaga University. In 1972, students walked into the school’s library to find that the 13-inch statuette had been replaced with a three-inch Mickey Mouse figurine instead. A week later, the award was found, unharmed, in the university chapel. “I wanted to make people laugh,” the anonymous thief later told the school newspaper.


Hattie McDaniel, famous for her Supporting Actress win as Mammy in Gone with the Wind, donated her Best Actress Oscar to Howard University. It was displayed in the fine arts complex for a time, but went missing sometime in the 1960s. No one seems to know exactly when or how, but there are rumors that the Oscar was unceremoniously dumped into the Potomac by students angered by racial stereotypes such as the one she portrayed in the film.

An earlier version of this post ran in 2013.


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