Desired satisfaction

I had some long stretches of drivin' to do recently, so in the absence of an iPod dock in my car, or any radio stations that ignore 'I Gotta Feeling' in America, I went to my local library to get an audiobook for the journey. Now, I'm not saying I'm picky, but I spent half an hour browsing the new releases (first floor) and the bigger archive (AV room, third floor). After much deliberation, I opted for The Guinea Pig Diaries by AJ Jacobs. As I'd find out on the drive back home, this would be a gutsy choice: one chapter begins with Jacobs discussing the time he got into a dangerous car accident because he got distracted while driving by an audiobook about Einstein. Yikes. Luckily, I had no such lapses, and have lived to tell the tale.

In each of his two previous books, Jacobs conducted an experiment and wrote about it. This time, there are about eight different experiments, which made each story more concise and interesting. Most of the stunts he gets up to are totally ballsy and/or fascinating. He pretended to be Shine's Noah Taylor at the 1997 Oscars, successfully convincing everyone except co-star Geoffrey Rush. He spent a month practicing Radical Honesty, which is basically 'Liar Liar' without all the gurning. He also outsourced his entire life to a couple of companies in India for a month; lived for a month closely following the tenets of George Washington (step one: don't shake hands), and masqueraded as his pretty au pair for internet dating.

I only really found one of the stories a little boring - it concerned Absolute Rationality, and was much more long and less gripping than the others. (Though Jacobs, like Jonathan Safran Foer in 'Eating Animals', which I'm currently reading, makes the point that there's no rational reason why we don't eat pasta for breakfast. My girlfriend would doubtless approve.) Jacobs' storytelling is personal and witty throughout, though you do start feeling for his long-suffering wife, who has to put up with all these insane experiments. Fittingly, the final piece in the book concerns a month where he obeyed his wife's every demand.

Whether you like this book will depend entirely upon how you feel about this kind of experiment-based journalism. As long as you're not one of those people who can't stand it, you'll get a kick out of the book.

Footnote: You must (MUST) check out AJ Jacobs' appearance on Seven Second Delay. It was on December 2nd, 2009, and AJ was the first guest on. It was the episode where Ken was drunk, and it's entirely glorious.

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