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Stop Me If You've Heard This by Jim Holt Books in Review
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Stop Me If You've Heard This
by Jim Holt
W.W. Norton & Company
ISBN 978-0-393-06673-9
Published July 2008 - Hardcover - 142 pages - $15.95

The "history" of jokes (or indeed a joke) is a tall order, but author Jim Holt tells of early Roman and Greek "books" on jokes.  And from the word go, it seems there has always been a satirical fascination with sex, drunks, fat people, morals, and so on.  These two sentences say it all about jokes:  "Well, jokes are a medium for fantasizing about what must be avoided in reality, a way of laughing off our cruel, irrational, and aggressive instincts", and "What distinguishes the joke from the mere humorous tale is that it climaxes in a punch line - a little verbal explosion set off by a sudden switch in meaning."  Some say jokes are subconscious mutterings, others a way of telling stories and keeping your audience amused.  Holt goes through, per the book title, the history and philosophy (interesting to read Freud's ideas) of jokes — once again, there's nothing much new in this world!  Seems that it's all been done before.  Much humor and many jokes stem from the superiority (usually supposed), disdain or intolerance, and lust (there had to be a reason for all those deplorable and tasteless sex jokes) of people.  I disagree with Christopher Hitchens's recommendation that this is "A book of wholesome fun for all the family" unless he was being facetious.  How do you explain anal sadism to the rest of the family?  I do believe strongly in laughter and humor, but I prefer the humor not to be malicious or racist.  I love clever wordplay and a quick wit.
Conclusion - Interesting, but I wouldn't make it nighttime reading for the kids.

book cover

Review copy not supplied by publisher - library copy reviewed.

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