The Humor Code

April 1, 2014 Humor, non-fiction, Science 18

18144085Title: The Humor Code
Author: Peter McGraw and Joel Warner
Source: from publisher for review
Rating: ★★★★☆
Review Summary: This book was amusing, well-written, inspiring, moving, and educational, as well as containing surprisingly valuable research.

If you’ve ever thought about why some things are funnier than others, you’ll probably realize that this is a tough question to answer. Other difficult questions include why we’d evolve a sense of humor and what purpose humor serves.  Although scientists still don’t agree on answers, professor Peter McGraw and journalist Joel Warner decide to tackle these questions in an epic, around-the-world journey. Their trip includes everything from talking to comedians and researchers to dressing as clowns and trying their hand at stand-up comedy. The perfect read for April Fool’s Day 🙂

I could tell right away that the authors had learned something about being funny on their trip. While the book didn’t have me in stitches, I did chuckle frequently at the humorous anecdotes and often humorous science as well. The mix of science, anecdotes, and humor were just right. As a result, I found this an incredibly easy and entertaining read.

I wasn’t sure about the organization at first, because the book was only almost chronological. More than making the book hard to follow, I think it just bothered my OCD side that I wasn’t sure what point the authors were trying to make with the way they organized the book. However, this didn’t stop my enjoyment of the book, so I decided to let it go at the beginning. It’s a good thing I did, because the low level jumping around eventually came together in a very cohesive story.In addition to my initial dislike of the organization, I wasn’t quite convinced of the scientific value of the questions they were asking. (I’m a science snob, what can I say?) By the end, however, that part of the book had really come together for me too.

The book started with a discussion of what makes things funny and continued into the theories on what purpose humor serves. This is partly a question of evolution, which sparked my interest, but still seemed like very basic, never-going-to-be-applied science. However, the third part of the story discusses some very emotionally moving situations which show how laughter is an invaluable part of the human experience. A large part of why I love non-fiction is for the people stories, so this part really worked for me. I thought the authors clearly showed the value of humor and this convinced me of the value of their research. It also gave their narrative far more emotional impact than I expected. This ended up being one of the few books I’ve read where initial impressions were wrong. It only got better as it went and ended up being a fantastic read.

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18 Responses to “The Humor Code”

    • DoingDewey

      It wasn’t something I’d ever thought about before, but once they posed the question, I realized it could be very complex to answer! It was definitely an interesting question 🙂

  1. Jennine G.

    What an interesting topic. I just talked with my students last week about characters serving as “comic relief” and why it’s needed, etc. This feeds right into that conversation I bet.
    Jennine G. recently posted…The PearlMy Profile

    • DoingDewey

      What perfect timing! This could make for an interesting read for your students and maybe for book bloggers as well. I know I find it very difficult to describe why a book is or isn’t funny to me. I think in general I’ve gotten better at identifying the literary devices which make writing work for me since I’ve started blogging, but I still struggle to describe humor!

  2. Charlene @ Bookish Whimsy

    This does sound like a great read! I wonder what conclusion they could come to since humor does seem difficult to define and explain! But I can see where centering the conversations on people’s experiences would make this a more worthwhile read. Great review!
    Charlene @ Bookish Whimsy recently posted…Review: The Ring and the CrownMy Profile

    • DoingDewey

      I was pretty impressed with the explanation the professor half of the author duo came up, although I’m not sure I’m quite convinced that all of humor can be summarized by one principle. It’s definitely a tricky topic! I was completely blown away by how convince I was that their research was worthwhile at the end and to me, that’s something good science writing should do – convert the masses, haha. I really liked this one! 🙂

    • DoingDewey

      It really was! The question wasn’t something I’d thought about it before and the way they managed to mix the science with incredible experiences (visiting Palestine! being clowns! doing comedy at the world’s largest show!) made it a particularly unique approach to the subject. Very well done 🙂

  3. Terri @ Alexia's Books and Such

    Very interesting premise, as humor can be tough to define and is so subjective! I may have to pick this one up, as I have a hard time explaining why I did or didn’t find something funny. Thanks for the great review!
    Terri @ Alexia’s Books and Such recently posted…March Wrap UpMy Profile

    • DoingDewey

      Hah, indeed and perfect given that I was just writing on your blog about how hard it is to describe humor in books! That was actually before I read this, but this was more food for thought. I hadn’t realized before I read it how difficult it is to answer the simple question “what is funny?”.

    • DoingDewey

      Wonderful! I love that non-fiction can get me interested in new topics and make me think about parts of life that never would have occurred to me otherwise 🙂

    • DoingDewey

      I have a ton of books on my shelves too, but that never stops me from grabbing a pile when I visit the library! There is non-fiction on so many fascinating topics, I have a hard time saying no! Hopefully I’ll get caught up on the ones I own this year 🙂

    • DoingDewey

      Perhaps! I love pairing books approaching a topic from different perspectives. I think it’s a good way to get a deeper understanding than I would from just reading one book on a topic and moving on.