Book Review: The Guinea Pig Diaries (Jacobs)

I bought this book on New Year’s Eve. Usually it takes longer than a week to get around to reading a newly-purchased book, usually much longer, but this was different. Right now, I am or are supposed to be reading a half-dozen books, some for classes and some for pleasure. I’m reading a few of them simultaneously right now, but I carved out mental space for A.J.’s newest “life as an experiment” books. I didn’t read his second, The Year of Living Biblically, but I loved his first one, The Know-It-All which describes his attempt at reading the entirety of the Encyclopedia Brittanica.

But, since this review is about The Guinea Pig Diaries, I should probably start to write about that one, right?
The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment by A.J. Jacobs (2009)

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Initial Thoughts: I originally walked into the Barnes and Noble on Grand River to pick up Christmas presents for my roommates, plus see if any books jumped out at me. I went first to the “comedy” section, saw that there was a new Pearls Before Swine treasury, grabbed it, then turned to walk away. As I turned, however, I saw that A.J. Jacobs had a (relatively) new book out. I picked it off the shelf, read the title and subtitle, and immediately decided to buy it. I loved The Know-It-All because of Jacobs’ writing style and humor but also for the insight into the information as well, and I knew that this book would be no different.

I payed using a gift card (after grabbing a few other things), drove back to my apartment, and left it on my shelf. I didn’t start the book until yesterday, while my roommate and his girlfriend had a discussion and after buying my textbooks for the semester, and I immediately fell in love like I knew I would. Wait, that’s not very rational, which was the subject of his self-experiment in Chapter Five: The Rationality Project (accompanied by Jacobs in his bathroom with twenty-some boxes of different toothpastes). I was immediately pulled back into Jacobs’ writing style with the first page (the last time I read The Know-It-All a few years ago), and I could barely put it down.

The Premise: Jacobs begins by describing the fact that he occasionally performs experiments on himself, and that his previous two books were part of it. Where this newest book differs is that each experiment will last a month or so, allowing him to talk about nine such experiments during the course of the book. He first does research about the topic, whether it is about Multi-tasking versus “Uni-tasking” or how George Washington would shake someone’s hand (spoiler: he wouldn’t shake anyone’s hand). Of course, the prose allows these relatively boring aspects to flow easily, and in no time he turns the discussion to placing cut-out eyes around his home to encourage good behavior or impersonating a movie star.

Since I like the idea behind it, and have in fact done a few somewhat similar things to myself in the past (consecutive hours awake, improve eyesight, TV series marathons, etc.), I was really drawn to the concept once I found out what was actually contained within this book. Honestly, I’ll probably even try out the George Washington experiment, or maybe the rationality one, during this semester. I know that I’ll make a few concessions (shaking hands, for starters), but the essence will still be there.

Conclusion: This book is just over 200 pages long, and those pages go quickly! I barely noticed the flipping pages once I got deep within an experiment, and I just couldn’t seem to take my eyes away. I even read some chapters while watching the History Channel’s The Universe (I own the first three seasons on DVD), which Jacobs would agree with in his uni-tasking chapter. It was funny and well worth the read, and I already have a few friends who want to borrow it now that I’m done. I’ll have to base that decision on who I think will be most likely to return the book in a timely manner, as any rational mind should.

My only suggestion would be to possibly wait until the summer for when it comes out in paperback. Yes, you can get a pretty good deal on Amazon, but the hardcover is still pretty expensive. Hence the use of a giftcard to buy it where otherwise I would have waited or checked the Library…

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