Thursday, October 13, 2011

ARCHIVED REVIEW: The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment (6/30/11)

The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment
by A.J. Jacobs

"The goal is that you're able to keep the good parts and not descend into insanity. That the pain of the experiment will end up making life better in the end. And that your spouse will forgive you. For, as I've been told many times, my wife is a saint. A saint, I might add, who doesn't tolerate these experiments lying down."

List of some of A.J.'s experiments in this book (from goodreads):

• He outsources his life. A.J. hires a team of people in Bangalore, India, to take care of everything in his life from answering his e-mails to arguing with his spouse.

• He spends a month practicing Radical Honesty -- a movement that encourages us to remove the filters between our brains and mouths. (To give you an idea of what happened, the name of the chapter is "I Think You're Fat.")

• He goes to the Academy Awards disguised as a movie star to understand the strange and warping effects of fame.

• He commits himself to ultimate rationality, using cutting-edge science to make the best decisions possible. It changes the way he makes choices big and small, from what to buy at the grocery store to how to talk to his kids. And his revelations will change how you make decisions, too.

• He attempts to follow George Washington's rules of life, uncovering surprising truths about leadership and politics in the twenty-first century. He also spends a lot of time bowing and doffing his hat.

• And then there's the month when he followed his wife's every whim -- foot massages, Kate Hudson movies, and all. Depending on your point of view, it's either the best or worst idea in the history of American marriage.

I love A.J. Jacobs, and his writing is very funny, but I felt that something was lacking in most of these experiments: a deeper, soul-searching core. While his other books delve into issues like the nature of intelligence, or the spiritual meaning behind the rules and rituals of religion, these essays flit across the surface of problems like what it is like to be a celebrity or if you can outsource your life to India.

I was intrigued by some of his experiments, like a month of uni-tasking to cure his multi-tasking mania, the month of following George Washington's rules of decorum (which appealed to the 18th century person in me), or the month of thinking rationally (as opposed to reacting with his subconscious brain). These, I felt, had a lasting lesson to teach A.J. and us, and he was changed for the better because of them. His commitment to the experiments, and the imaginative lengths to which he goes to complete them are always fascinating, hilarious and brave. I really related to him during his last two books as a compulsive knowledge seeker, myself.

However, there are moments in this book where I felt he was being a dick. He accommodatingly admits it and is uncomfortable about it, but I felt bad for his family and his Indian assistants. Luckily, his long suffering wife is there to bring him back to earth every so often.

Still an entertaining summer read!

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