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What? Are These the 20 Most Important Questions in Human History or Is This a Game of 20 Questions?

2.98  ·  Rating Details  ·  107 Ratings  ·  37 Reviews
What is What? Could it be that noted author Mark Kurlansky has written a very short, terrifically witty, deeply thought-provoking book entirely in the form of questions? A book that draws on philosophy, religion, literature, policy-indeed, all of civilization-to ask what may well be the twenty most important questions in human history? Or has he given us a really smart, im ...more
ebook, 96 pages
Published April 26th 2011 by Walker Books (first published January 1st 2011)
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Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
Is this a book review or just a list of questions? Is a list of questions a book review if the book being reviewed is composed entirely of questions?

Can this book be read in one sitting? Is that one of its best attributes? Is there something increasingly annoying about reading one question after another? Are there any answers in this book?

Does this book deserve three stars? Did I get anything from it besides a compulsion to make my own endless list of questions?
May 18, 2011 Megan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
At the first question, I thought "Huh. This is a little strange." By the third question, I thought "Wow, this is annoying." By about question 5, I thought "I just gotta push through this book. It's only 82 pages, and I can add it to my books read pile."

Around question 6, though, I got sucked in. A book that's entirely questions is an interesting conceit. Reading a book that's full of questions requires a subtle shift in the way I read a book: like reading Shakespeare or speech written in a diale
Tracy Rowan
Would it matter to you if it wasn't? Would you buy this book in any event because it piqued your interest? But doesn't it seem to you that a book entirely comprised of questions is just a little pretentious? And honestly, isn't a small-format book of fewer than 100 pages a bit over-priced at more than $10? Even with illustrations? Even very nice little woodcuts? But the bottom line is, how long do you really think you can stand reading an entire book that is nothing but questions?

Yeah, I thought
May 03, 2011 Jasmine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american
this is a book about the historic and modern importance of questions and asks which questions are important those with answers or those without?
Al Bità
Jul 04, 2011 Al Bità rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Was I was initially amused by the conceit of this book? Did I smile when the author asked whether he was the author? When he questioned who to thank? Asked about the Index? Queried the title of the book? Was uncertain about whom to dedicate his book to? Is it significant that the information on the verso of the title page is not questioned?

Am I not an advocate of the Socratic admonition to question everything? How is it then that I eventually found this perpetual questioning irritating? Was it u
Nov 13, 2011 Traci rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What is What? Has Mark Kurlansky drawn on philosophy, religion, literature, politics - indeed, all of civilization - to ask the twenty most important questions in human history, or has he given us a really smart, impossibly amusing game of twenty questions? In What?, Kurlansky considers the work of Confucius, Plato, Stein, Shakespeare, Descartes, Nietzsche, Freud, Hemingway, de Gaulle, Woolf, Dickinson, and others, distilling the deep questions of life to their sparkling essence. What? supplies ...more
Aug 29, 2011 Leah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Does it appear that I rate every book I finish with five stars? How can we assign a rating to a book? Did it make us think? Did it provoke more questions than it answered? Did it leave me wanting more? If the answers to these questions is yes, then does this book deserve the highest rating?
Feb 21, 2015 Michelle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I could try to write my review entirely with questions, but if you have just read or are about to read this book, that seems superfluous! The first few pages I found annoying, but then I got into the swing of things and enjoyed the 'game'. Soon you realise it is more than just a gimmick, Kurlansky is actually examining the role and importance of questions throughout human endeavor by way of literature, philosophy and religion. It doesn't hurt that he references many of my favourite writers, Shak ...more
Jane S
Jul 09, 2012 Jane S rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This slim volume is composed entirely of questions about what is the nature and purpose of life, reality etc., interspersed with musings on what sages and philosophers such as Nietzsche and Confucius have said on the same. To all intents and purposes, the premise seems fine ; in execution however, the project seems to strain and try too hard to fit questions within chapters nominally framed by those questions journalists ask i.e. Who, What, When, Why, Why, How and a few more besides. This imposi ...more
Nov 27, 2011 Leland rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: language, philosophy
There were three or four moments in reading this book where I found myself happily re-reading a sentence, or thinking that a particular insight was well presented. The rest of the time I was more or less annoyed by the all the questions. Clearly there is no denying the value of questions, particularly to philosophy. On or near the 20th page of this little book, I began to wonder if there was some correlation between the viceral annoyance I was experiencing reading a book which asks far to many q ...more
Kris McCracken
Jul 10, 2011 Kris McCracken rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I like Mark Kurlansky’s work, I really do. This one failed to resonate though. In What? Are These the 20 Most Important Questions in Human History or is This a Game of 20 Questions? every single sentence is a question.

Yes, every single one.

As much as I like Kurlansky and as much as I like questions, it just didn’t work for me. Let me put it this way, do you like being asked random questions for hours on end? Do you like no narrative thread in the books you read? Do you like endless and disjoin
Still not quite sure what to make of this one. Definitely one of the strangest little books I've randomly picked up. The constant stream of questions really forces your brain to slug through it...
May 17, 2015 Doug rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I have read and enjoyed other books by Kurlansky. This is a book that is crafted where literally every sentence is a question. Annoying at best, and left me with my own - why did I read this book?
Robert Heckner
Was this a good book? Did I like it? Is Kurlansky brilliant or mad? Does this book answer any questions? What? Where? Why? Who? How?
Michael Tarpinian
Did Kurlansky really write a book with no declarative sentences, only questions? He did, but how? Why?

Cristina Alvarez
I found this book great fun and thought provoking. I love a book which leaves me smiling.
Linda K
Can a book only pose questions and be a viable book? Can an author be so astute that he can write so many interesting questions? Does reading such a book get quite annoying after awhile?

Answer to all these is "Yes!"

This premise is so clever that it is hard not to appreciate it. The idea that questions are so integral to our continued reading and understanding is purposed. And, the idea that if we had bothered to truly find the answers to a lot of questions we would be in a much better place.

A f
Jeffrey Bumiller
Consider this: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you"

I found this book fascinating. I was glued to it, carrying it around the apartment cleaning up the kitchen while reading it, considering getting in the shower and reading it, just so I didn't have to put it down. It's very poetic in a way and it reaffirms the value of questions in our world.
Loved this clever, thought-provoking little book - written entirely in the form of questions. There is something so open, humble, and liberating about questions, as opposed to dogmatic or pat answers. Makes you wonder: are questions the answer? Despite its brevity not to be read to hastily - after all, shouldn't questions provoke thinking and analysis?
Craig Davey
Interesting , sometimes thought provoking , but ultimately unfulfilling. Quite a small book for the big questions contained within which limits the depth with with one can dive for answers. Although the aim of the author seems to pose questions and why we ask them, rather than try to find his own answers and share them with the reader.
Enka-Candler Library
What is this? A book written entirely with questions? How fascinating is this?
Really, the author writes in the entire book with questions. Granted, it's a little gimmicky, but it's an interesting take on the subject--which is a look at the some of the most intriguing questions put forth by humankind.

May 09, 2011 Martin rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book did not resonate with me. Conceptually it does provide an interesting approach to the elements of philosophy, and life’s great question. The cynic in me makes me think the book is a filler in a commitment to publish a certain number of books to fill a contractual obligation.
Feb 23, 2013 Tom rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It seems I liked this book more than most people. It's short and, at first glance, looks like a shallow novelty. But I think its fundamental point--that questioning is important in its own right--cannot be overstated, and recognizing that is the beginning of any great philosophy.
Jul 27, 2011 Julianne rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
A total impulse read. Just for the heck of it. Finished it in less than half an hour. Have forgotten almost everything in it. But I do remember it was strange and interesting to read a book composed almost entirely of questions.
May 26, 2013 Martha rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy, reviews, 2013
A bit gimmicky. Didn't find it made me think about these questions in a new or deeper way. Author implies in the acknowledgements that his agent wasn't really enthusiastic about this book. Could have been on to something.
I liked it. I found the ongoing amount of questions grating. At the same time found that I was looking at ideas from a different perspective simply by having something posed as a question vs a statement.
Edward Sullivan
An occasionally amusing little book that has an intriguing underlying concept but relies too much upon gimmickry which qickly wears thin.
Mar 27, 2012 John rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Short and sweet? Worth your 30 minutes? Why all the questions? Must all the answers be given to you all the time?
Sep 08, 2011 Nathan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A nice short book. Annoying at times, but with enough patience and curiosity you'll get some nice bits of inspiration.
Aug 19, 2011 Joan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A short little book, lots of questions, no answers. It's up to the reader to figure out the answers!
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Mark Kurlansky (born 7 December 1948 in Hartford, Connecticut) is a highly-acclaimed American journalist and writer of general interest non-fiction. He is especially known for titles on eclectic topics, such as cod or salt.

Kurlansky attended Butler University, where he harbored an early interest in theatre and earned a BA in 1970. However, his interest faded and he began to work as a journalist in
More about Mark Kurlansky...

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