Book Review: Wit’s End

Written by: James Geary
Series: N/A
Hardcover: 128 pages
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company
Publication Date: 1st Edition; November 13, 2018
ISBN-10: 0393254941
ISBN-13: 978-0383254945


I am uncertain how to rate this book, I feel like there was as much pointless flash to it as there was useful insight from which I learned something. I find myself snuggly sitting atop an uncomfortable fence. Wit’s End: What Wit Is, How It Works, and Why We Need It is not James Geary’s first book. Geary is the Deputy Curator for the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University has also written I Is an Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor and How It Shapes the Way We See the World in 2011 among other books.

In Wit’s End Geary addresses the various forms which wit can take with each chapter focusing on a different style. This is where the flash comes in. Every chapter is written in a different style meant to imitate or best express the form of wit being discussed. Chapters change font, formatting, and go from being written in jive to an art history lecture. This is all the flash. The flash was both fun and distracting.

Distracting in the manner that he sometimes falls short in the attempt at mimicry or to keep the levity he initially instills from becoming ponderous at times. For example, Geary starts with an imitation of the heroic couplet so well done by Alexander Pope. However, Geary has no sense of meter which makes it difficult to appreciate the outcome of the attempt. He makes an attempt at writing a rap which comes across more like a poem and lacks that certain ‘flow’ associated with good rap.

However, I did learn a bit about the different styles of wit and a bit about the history of wit. I found it a mostly entertaining read and my major take away is that wit is generally the ability to hold a connection between two unlike things within the mind at the same time. Sometimes this point was a little redundant throughout the book because it boiled down to the same concept despite the variation in expression of wit.

All in all, I’m glad that I read it and I’m not about to veto it from my bookshelf as I personally found it useful enough. I don’t think anyone else would regret reading it. However, I don’t find myself yelling from the roof tops that you must go and read this because it will enlighten or entertain you. If you come across it, I suggest you scan through it to make sure it is your cup of tea before purchasing it.

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