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An Incomplete Education: 3,684 Things You Should Have Learned but Probably Didn't
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An Incomplete Education: 3,684 Things You Should Have Learned but Probably Didn't

3.92 of 5 stars 3.92  ·  rating details  ·  1,589 ratings  ·  161 reviews
When it was originally published in 1987, An Incomplete Education became a surprise bestseller. Now this instant classic has been completely updated, outfitted with a whole new arsenal of indispensable knowledge on global affairs, popular culture, economic trends, scientific principles, and modern arts. Here’s your chance to brush up on all those subjects you slept through ...more
Hardcover, 720 pages
Published April 25th 2006 by Ballantine Books (first published 1987)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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I really liked this book.
Its for those of us who read lots of books written in the 18th and 19th century (Jane Austin fans take note)
It answers those gaps in our education which come up when you want to know the differnce between a Vicar, Rector and Parson.
Did you ever wonder why they drink Port, Claret or Madeira in the drawing room after dinner?
What's higher in the British aristocracy? a Duke, Marquis or Barron? Why do they have Counts in Europe, but Earls in England? Why is the wife of an
Great for becoming an intellectual, or at least faking it very convincingly. It fills in those gaps you missed while throwing paper airplanes at your peers and then takes you beyond what most schools ever offered. Cleverly written and sure to make you laugh.
Jul 30, 2008 Kerry added it
Recommends it for: Everyone!
This is hilarious! I swear, I didn't know anyone could write such a comparative reference book that would make me laugh so hard that Cheerios almost came out of my nose.

How's that for a visual?

Highly recommended...if you have a witty sense of humor.
Half the fun of this book is arguing (admittedly a one-sided argument) with the authors about what's been included and what hasn't. Also, frankly, the smug satisfaction you get when you already know something that's presented in the book as arcane knowledge that needs careful explanation. Once you get over these tawdry pleasures and settle down to reading, however, you get what you came for: a wonderful compendium of lore in many fields, a great way to brush up your Shakespeare and everything el ...more
if i had to recommend only ONE book that would sit beside my bed.... everything you should know - about every subject imaginable. don't expect to be able to chat about Hegel with a scholar, but you will know the basics of the major world religions, be able to tell the differences between the Odyssey and the Illiad, and read about major Supreme Court cases... every time i open it up i learn something new... or something that i forgot already...
Mary Tuley
Aug 21, 2007 Mary Tuley rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everybody who still has something to learn.
I actually read this enormous reference book, and I tried to learn something from it, but the main thing I learned was thatI should've paid attention in school.
Jul 11, 2011 Ami rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2011
I nicknamed this book "the book that is making me smarter". Co-written by a Smithie (yay!), it is an incredibly comprehensive overview of just about everything, divided into the categories of: American Studies, Art, Economics, Film, Literature, Music, Philosophy, Political Science, Psychology, Religion, Science, World History, and a bonus Lexicon. I feel much better equipped to play Trivial Persuit, assuming that I've absorbed enough. I got this out as a library loan, so I ended up on a strict s ...more
Probably the best free-in-a-curbside-box book I've ever owned. It was odd to get that please-don't-end feeling from what's basically just a collection of random facts & info, but it was just so damned entertaining. It's all very well organized, with chapters devoted to literature, music, philosophy, economics, film, etc., and the knowledge is dispense with cleverness and wit - but not overwhelmingly so. The Lexicon section was probably my favorite, with its lists of Latin abbreviations, popu ...more
An Incomplete Education is a bit like Cliff Notes for Everything. I picked this up in the bargain rack at my local Borders. It's been a bedside mainstay ever since and still is.

It reads easily with a voice as playful as it is pedantic as it covers a range of topics (differences of the major religions, art movements you ought to be aware of, the science you snoozed through, geography of 19th century literature, etc.). If you feel you missed out on certain topics in the classroom or the lecture h
Bryce Holt
Heck of an informative book, and the third best "Hidden Faction" books I've ever read (the best by far being "5 People Who Died During Sex" and the second best being, "An Underground Education"). It does exactly what it suggests it will do; give you mounds of information that have loose strings to subjects that you think you know at least a bit about.

Definitely worth picking up, though if you're like me and prefer the seedy underbelly of hidden faction, the other suggestions might better serve
Leah Polcar
(This review is of the first edition)

This is a great book for reminding the reader of the things they learned in high school and college. It is also pretty good at teaching you the things that you should have learned. So, it really does as it promises -- fills in the gaps in your education.

That said, it in itself is incomplete, but that is probably how it must be. Some sections give short shrift to various subject areas and really don't give the reader enough information at all. For example, thi
A big, chunky thick book that looks intimidating. But ... the type is big. There are lots of illustrations. This is a tongue in cheek, irreverent, humorous attempt to provide an abbreviated college education. It reads like a cross between Cliff Notes and MAD Magazine. Its audience might be those students who stumbled to the podium after a hazy four years of keggers and bongs and were handed a degree and are compelled to ask "What did I learn?". A great refresher course, this book is filled with ...more
As with many Cliff Notes-type books of this sort, this book excels in its breadth, but lacks in its depth. On some subjects, these seemed more questions raised than answered. As would be expected, it skims surface and focuses on the “what” and not the “why” (i.e. Emerson was a great human being, but you wouldn't want to spend time with him???)

It is irreverent to the point of being entertaining. And the book is definitely made for browsing as there is much diverse knowledge contained therein and
Jul 29, 2008 Brandon rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone who likes knowing about stuff
This book is so sweet. It's kind of like a textbook, but written my people who know about pretty much everything and have a sense of humor. It covers things like american studies (12 supreme court decisions worth knowing by name) art history (six -ism's, one -ijl, and Dada), economics (Now, what, exactly, is exonomics, and what do economists do, again?), film (remedial watching for the baby-boom generation), literature (guess who's coming to dinner? Twelve ficitonal characters with whom you shou ...more
What a fun book!

I didn't read this cover to cover - it isn't one of those books you do that with. Instead, it's one of those books you keep in the bathroom so that you can learn something new every day. (Too bad I checked it out from the library.) I flipped through and read the parts that interested me. I even read some topics that weren't necessarily of interest because the writing style is so enjoyable!

Some of my favorite sections:
~ Comparison of 10 or so different editions of the bible
~ Gree
If my college professors were half this entertaining I would have retained a lot more (and maybe wouldn't have had to read this)! Some really great topics (and several I cared nothing about). To no suprise the science chapters were high on my list (e.g thermodynamics, evolution, quarks). Also of great interest were discussions contrasting the major religions, the various versions of the Bible and some discussions on grammar and word and literary abbreviation useage. Authors combine wittiness (is ...more
I loved this book! My parents gave it to me when I graduated college and it had been following me around ever since (all two pounds of it). Broken into manageable sections with just about every topic you'd want to know more about, this massive tome of a book is full of interesting tidbits as well as the facts everyone should know. The writing is conversational, without being dumbed down, and the information is well-chosen.

I read it precisely the way they don't recommend reading it: straight thro
I was all over the lexicon chapter. The format of that section along with priceless information was worth the 600 Some odd pages it took to get to that content. The art history was engaging and I like that a variety of artists were explored. I'm a tad bit confused why Socrates was not one of the 20 thinkers or philosophers highlighted yet the chapter's introduced with the famous painting depicting his suicide/death sentence. I would not classify your education as incomplete if you don't know eac ...more
If I were a computer and my hard drive was full, making it impossible to store new information, I would have this book on a back up disk. It is the book that I wish I could carry around in my purse and casually take out when someone brings up an obscure topic of conversation that I really do know something about, but can't form the right words. This book is excellent in showing you all the things you know, but forgot you knew, and a few other interesting things you really hope you can remember s ...more
I like nothing more than making myself a little smarter everyday...ok I probably like making myself look a little smarter everyday. This book is an excellent tool for that. Even if most of it zooms right through your ears, some of it will hang on, and you'll suddenly remember how to correctly pronounce flaccid (it's FLAK-sid by the way)one day and pat your self on the back.

I especially enjoyed the Lexicon chapter and the Literature chapters. Those not super-familiar with the sciences will like t
Feb 16, 2009 Tsui-Hua is currently reading it
bought for my sister as 08 xmas present since she's the history/politics person
started flipping through/scanning/reading before I wrapped it
went and returned Alyssa's hokey sci-fi book I bought for her 08 xmas gift and got her this book also
then after xmas, I bought copy for myself
that's how much i liked it
can't read through all at once; treat it like a reference book; read something in the news? want some background info check if it's in this book.....

Nov 21, 2008 Deirdre is currently reading it
I keaned So much............. The title 3,684 things you should have learned but didn't, thats true.Ihave learned abot some of my faves, History, American Lit 101, Art History, Economics, film, more literature, music, philosophy, political science, and now I am reading abot one of my favorites, Psychology.I planned to double major, but w/all that was going on in my life, I did not. So next term I am already signed up for Psychology classes.I cannot wait!
I am one of those people who is constantly learning. I want to stretch the limits of my brain to see how much I can cram in there. I buy books like these and read them to ingest all of the information they contain. This book was no exception. The subjects range from American Studies to Art History to Economics, Film, Music and Philosophy, Political Science and World History.

For instance: Opening the book, I turned to "Literature" and, about Shakespeare's Histories, the author writes, Henry VIII
Todd Woods
3rd edition. Excellent book. They live up to their premise. I learned a lot.
This book is a great review at times or introduction at others to what one did or did not learn in high school and college. I set a goal to read 10 pages a day (didn't want to overload my brain!), and I have to admit I learned a lot. At the same time, to complete my incomplete education, I may have to read this again. So much knowledge to absorb on a first reading.
Kathy McDowell (Ryan) Miller
I loved this book! I'm on a personal quest to become the smartest person in my (not the entire) world. I've already attained the status, thanks in part, to this great book. Who knew that a book about art, history, literature, etc. could be such a fun read? This is the kind of book we should have had in high school and perhaps we would have paid more attention in class.
While an alternate title for this book could be either "Pretension 101" or "Crib Notes for Cocktail Parties", I found this book highly readable and very entertaining when I read it ten years ago. I still pick it up from time to time for reference and a chuckle. All college freshmen should read this book.
I think if I'd had teachers this witty and creative, I'd have retained more. Also perfect if you spent a lot of your educational years focused in one area while ignoring all others & find yourself grasping for slim straws when the conversation rolls around to say art or geography or higher math.
I LOVE this book. It appeals to the Trival Pursuit geekiness in me that always wants to know the whys of things without having to resort to the encyclopedia.

This book is excellent in offering little nuggets of information in an interesting and entertaining method.
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