Review

Geek Wisdom by Stephen H. Segal (ed.)

“Computer nerds are our titans of industry; comic-book superheroes are our Hollywood idols; the Internet is our night on the town. Clearly, geeks know something about life in the 21st century that other folks don’t—something we all can learn from. Geek Wisdom takes as gospel some 200 of the most powerful and oft-cited quotes from movies (“Where we’re going, we don’t need roads”), television (“Now we know—and knowing is half the battle”), literature (“All that is gold does not glitter”), games, science, the Internet, and more. Now these beloved pearls of modern-day culture have been painstakingly interpreted by a diverse team of hardcore nerds with their imaginations turned up to 11. Yes, this collection of mini-essays is by, for, and about geeks—but it’s just so surprisingly profound, the rest of us would have to be dorks not to read it. So say we all.”

Being the kind of person who incessantly quotes books and movies, this book had an automatic appeal to me.  Granted, I got it on discount through Amazon, but that was mostly because I wasn’t aware of the book’s existence until the sale popped up.  And it ended up being a quick read–and I don’t really think that’s a good thing.  There is so much about geek culture that can inspire thought, or simply inspire, that this book should have taken the time to really dig into the ideas it was exploring.  When the synopsis says “mini-essays”, they weren’t kidding.  99% of the “essays” were only about a page long… so, less an essay and more of a sum-up of the ideas being presented.

This is a shame, because it looks to me like this book falters most in its structure.  There are some excellent ideas raised with the quotes chosen and the ideas brought up by exploring them, but there’s no significant time given to them.  I think the book would have worked better if it had kept the sections (quotes on relationships, quotes on the universe, etc.) and had longer essays that incorporated many of the quotes.  The short bits of writing, as they stand, give the book a choppy feel.  Yes, they’re grouped by general subject, but the lack of cohesion makes it feel like the authors are just bouncing around with no concrete idea of what they want to convey.

Also, it seemed like a stretch to include some of the quotes that they did.  It’s one thing if you’re collecting catchphrases and lines that people often quote, but if you’re going to look for deeper meanings in them, they need to be more than just catchphrases.  For example, it seems a bit silly to include Optimus Prime’s usual command “Roll out!” and then try to ascribe some wisdom to it.  The authors take a valiant stab at it, but honestly, it just didn’t work for me.  In this case, keeping the “mini-essays” short and sweet was best, but I think it would have been better to not use quotes with such a thin excuse.  The title and presentation of this book leads readers to believe that we’re going to be getting nuggets of wisdom, Zen sayings from the sacred tomes of Tolkien and Rowling.  Instead, it’s a few of those thoughts mixed in with a lot of mostly fun but ultimately shallow drivel.

I can’t be completely down on this book, though.  It does manage to highlight some interesting thoughts along the way.  And there are amusing bits of trivia as footnotes to almost all of the entries.  (I actually didn’t make the connection that the actor who played Mr. World in American Gods was also George McFly!)  Readers looking for something not too mentally taxing might enjoy this book if their own expectations don’t trip them up, like what happened to me.  I thought I’d get more, and I was disappointed when I didn’t.  It made me think about doing a feature on this site that explores geek wisdom, though, so that’s something else positive that came from my reading.

I’m not sure I can recommend this book, because of its choppy pace and because of the inclusion of quotes that don’t really have much to offer wisdom-wise.  But if you’re able to pick up a cheap copy, you should, because you might find something in here that resonates for you.  Personally, this book was a portrait of missed opportunities.

This book was a personal purchase.

(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)

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