Review – That Is All by John Hodgman

The third and final volume in John Hodgman’s encyclopedia of made-up knowledge, That Is All is an exhausting read. A compendium of occult lists and humorous essays combined with a novella told in page-a-day calendar format, it’s Mystery Science Theater in print– relentlessly obscure and as endless as The Castle of Fu Manchu. There’s brilliance on almost every page, but attempting to absorb it all at once might drive you insane.

Hodgman’s dedication to the book’s non-linear format is its biggest drawback. While the headers, footnotes, and marginalia increase the comedic density, it quickly becomes difficult to track the book’s multiple narratives across different parts of the page. Ignore one bullet point and you might be lost 50 pages later when what you thought was just another hobo joke[1] becomes a running thread in Hodgman’s meticulously detailed breakdown of the coming societal collapse. By combining his many asides and flights of Lovecraftian fantasy into an apocalyptic meta-narrative, Hodgman sets a new standard for contemporary humor writers. But it’s tempting to wish his ideas had been presented in a more palatable format, perhaps as a series of illustrated Monster Manuals or sepia-toned ahistorical documentaries.

Daunting length and non-Euclidian page layouts aside, there’s nothing else out there like it. Essentially the conclusion of an epic commonplace book, That Is All is a comprehensive look inside the mind of an spectacular fantasist. Filled with literary references (Clive Cussler– author of Caulk The Grand Canyon!), true facts about historical figures (Houdini– punched in the stomach to death by ghosts!), and lists of notable small towns with secrets (Most Dangerous Gamesburg, UT), the consistent level of creativity within its pages is mind-boggling. This is what reading The Hitchhiker’s Guide (not the novel, but the galactic encyclopedia) from cover to cover must feel like.


[1] Seriously, what’s up with the hobos?

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2 Comments

  1. There’s no index, but there’s a very thorough table of contents (and table of figures, and table of tables) instead. There are also copious footnotes referring the reader to topics covered in Hodgman’s previous books, The Areas of My Expertise and More Information Than You Require. A complete index would be quite a feat.

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