tl;dr (Short Review): This book aims to be a guide to Discworld and also to the multitude of real-world things parodied therein. However, the authors stl;dr (Short Review): This book aims to be a guide to Discworld and also to the multitude of real-world things parodied therein. However, the authors spend so much time blabbing about all the other books and movies they like and attempting humor by giving you their thoughts on random crap that it's hard to learn anything at all. Especially since they tend to leave out the actual origins of the things they're supposed to be telling you about. (See long review for many, many examples.)
One stated purpose of the book to introduce the Discworld universe to people unfamiliar with it (specifically kids, I think). However, it's so confusing and full of non-Disc-related stuff that it's doubtful anyone of any age would really get the idea of what the novels are like. Most likely you'd just get the basic idea that Discworld books are funny, contain many parodies, and cover a diverse range of topics, which you probably already knew if you picked this book up in the first place. As for fans hoping to understand some of the more obscure jokes in the series, well, this might help you, but probably not as much as just finding a Discworld wiki. In fact you might learn more from my long review (I hope that's not the case).
Long Review (my dweeby commentary, examples, and loads of irksome excerpts from the book):
I picked up this book for three main reasons:
1. to pat myself on the back. I believe that I catch a lot of the references in Discworld (or so I like to think, although as Mr Pratchett points out, he writes the books in such a way that "the [jokes] you don't get, you won't actually notice are there"). Obviously I love the idea of picking up a book that will reinforce my feelings of literary competence while also explaining things in more detail.
2. to learn the things I don't know. While I get a lot of the jokes in Discworld, I must admit there are a fair number of references to things which I know ABOUT but am not really familiar with; I know that there is a joke but worry that I'm missing some of it. I don't even want to consider the nightmarish thought that I might be totally missing something. I was excited to find a guide which seemed like it would fill in these bits of trivia so that I too can present myself as a condescending nerd. (Well, more accurately, I'm already a condescending nerd, but we must always strive for self-improvement, amirite?)
3. secretly hoping the book would sate my Discworld hunger at least temporarily.
So, did the book fulfill my needs and wants? Well, kind of.
Good points first:
1. There is a fair amount of useful information in this book. Most of it wasn't new to me, but there was indeed extra info about various things (the plot of Macbeth, for example). The authors do their best to be humorous, presumably both to mirror the light-hearted feel of Discworld and also to make the book feel less like an academic text. To get many of the jokes in Discworld, necessary information must be given about topics some people find dull, such as quantum physics, Shakespeare, world history, and the philosophers and inventors of ancient Greece and Rome. The authors tried to use humor and trivia to enliven these subjects, though in my opinion not always successfully (see rage-filled rant below).
2. The book gives some detailed description of various aspects of the Discworld. I was expecting more of a situation where there would be bits from the novels with accompanying explanation and info, but I realized after a while that the intended audience of the book is not fans, but instead, people (especially kids) who aren't familiar with it. The book has lots of loving descriptions of most of Discworld's important characters and locations.
3. Lists of which operas, plays, and movies were being referred to in "Maskerade" and "Moving Pictures," with the Discworld title (e.g. Guys and Trolls) listed alongside the real thing (Guys and Dolls). This is the sort of thing I picked up the book for -- a subject taken directly from the novels (in this case, listing the Discworld titles) and the real-world inspiration. (Though I was disappointed that they didn't list all the movies and famous actors parodied in "Moving Pictures," including Casablanca!)
4. The chapters on the Watch and Art references were pretty good, with some real info in each, and almost no mentions of other series or inane jokes.
1. I'm sorry, but as a reader, I don't care about your cats or relatives. There is no need for one, let alone MANY, references to them. I'm not reading this book to learn about you. I think this was done to bring humor to the book in the style of Pratchett's many footnotes, but comments about your pets are only funny to you. Every book, especially a work of fiction, reflects the personality and views of the author, but the content is usually intended to promote the author's point of view, not serve as an unofficial autobiography.
2. Incredibly confusing jumble of names, locations, etc. Half the time the authors don't mention if the character they're talking about is from Discworld or from something else -- you're just supposed to know. If you're not already familiar with the names of the Disc's characters plus the names of many mythological & literary figures, it's a mire.
3. Incomplete (occasionally wrong) information on many subjects. Especially annoying when there are several paragraphs about something but it's all nonsense. This is the longest section of my review as this is what annoyed me the most. Examples from various chapters: a) the authors point out that "it is only natural that we have personified Death into a skeletal form holding a scythe; after all, the Romans personified Genius by depicting a man holding a cornucopia." Why on earth would you assume the reader knows the meaning of a man with a cornucopia but not a scythe? Also you barely even talked about the scythe! Also to the Romans "genius" was the divinity within all things and not a specific person. b) There is over a page on "Imps," yet no content. I don't care which other books or movies imps appear in. A paragraph is devoted to Maxwell's Demon, which actually IS sort of relevant, though the authors never link it to imps (they could have, but they didn't). Worst, the authors do not provide a single mythological or historical reference. argh. c) chapter about Heroes contains references to the Matrix and Pirates of the Caribbean, but not one mention of Joseph Campbell? Commentary on how Moist or Roland don't "look like your typical hero," also without mention of the Hero's Journey? (A book by a Mr Vogler on "Mythic Structure" IS in the bibliography, at least.) Also, info on Cohen the Barbarian (same chapter) contains almost nothing about Conan the Barbarian or Ghengis Khan, though at least the names are mentioned. They never point out that Cohen's "Silver Horde" is probably a reference to the Mongolian Golden Horde. d) The Auditors are described as "living proof of the Peter Principle." The term is never defined for the reader, but that's irrelevant since it's wrong anyhow (the Auditors disapprove of hierarchy and also abhor the concept of being alive). Also, the authors say they don't know what the Auditors do with their time, even though Pratchett tells us they're busy indexing the universe and filing paperwork for chemical reactions and such. e) They say Adora Belle in "Going Postal" parodies Clint Eastwood's lines in "Dirty Harry," which would be great if we were told which lines were being referred to in the book & movie. If you don't already know both quotes, this is worthless information. f) To me, the #1 most egregious error: the authors talk about the fairies/elves multiple times, but always just refer to either "A Midsummer Night's Dream" or to generic "fairy tales" (which ones?). They mention how Pratchett's elves and fairies are unpleasant or at best, selfish and lacking human empathy, but why? No mention of the Irish Sidhe/Tuatha de Danann, and very few mentions of Celtic or Gaelic mythology in general. No mention of the Wild Hunt or Tam Lin (latter especially relevant to "Wee Free Men"), etc. WTF. g) Worst error #2 goes to: the short set of paragraphs about Fourecks (aka the Last Continent) mentions Aztec history (wtf), Robinson Crusoe and South Pacific (and it doesn't even say why, there's just name-dropping and a comment about desert islands) but NEVER ONCE EVER says the word "Australia." There's no discussion of Vegemite, hats with corks on, kangaroos, Aborigines, the platypus, how Australia is now producing wine they're quite proud of, etc. NOTHING. WTFFFFF h) People didn't blow into "speaking tubes" because they thought it made sound carry, it was to get the attention of someone at the other end. Did you even look these things up? i) No mention that "Iconograph" is derived from Latin roots, as many words in Discworld are. Speaking of which, the authors never ever once mention Latin (or Greek, or any other languages) in this book, as far as I recall, even though there are loads of Latin language jokes in many of the books and it's even vital to the plot once or twice. g) Paragraphs on "Quoth the Raven" contain irrelevant info about a character with a vaguely similar name in some other book who is not a raven. Why??? And thanks for mentioning randomly that Edgar Allen Poe has a poem which mentions a raven -- without ever once stating that Quoth's name comes from said poem, or the name of the famous poem in question (The Raven) or WHY Quoth's name is funny. Apparently the authors expect you're already familiar with the poem, so WHAT IS THE POINT OF THIS BOOK
3. Incomplete info when describing Discworld. Unforgivable, as this is the subject of the book and one of its main purposes! For example, they talk about Susan (Death's granddaughter) but never mention her devotion to reason and logic or her aversion to "fluffy thinking," which is an important aspect of her character. Seems like a big thing to leave out, esp. when devoting so much time to comparing her to Mary Poppins even though Susan is only a nanny in one book.
4. The authors spent a ton of time referring to other book series and movies, which I suppose was in the hope of gaining non-Pratchett-reader interest by mentioning something the reader already likes. (The cynic in me wonders if the authors were just tossing out the names of things they like in hopes of looking like cool people who read all the best books, thus gaining nerd cred, but I hope for the former.) A great deal of time is devoted to this in multiple chapters. For example, both the Heroes and Villains chapters begin with enormous lists of both from all sorts of things.
Please note that I'm not talking about the authors discussing Shakespeare, the Ring Cycle, Les Mis, Tolkien, world mythology, etc., which are important to know about if you want to get the jokes in Discworld. Those represent what this book is supposed to be about.
I'm talking about the enormous chunks of this book dedicated to comparing and contrasting Pratchett's world and characters in great detail (why) with those of Raymond Feist, Robert Jordan, Ursula K Leguin, and even (inexplicably, imho) Anne McCaffery and Lilian Jackson Braun (look, I sometimes enjoy Pern and cat detectives too, but the relevance here is pretty much none). In fact, hardly a paragraph goes by without a comparison or reference to some non-Discworld novel or movie. It's incredibly distracting and annoying, especially if you're unfamiliar with the reference, because then it doesn't even make sense. (If you say Rincewind looks like a shabby version of Gandalf or Merlin, okay, he does, but there's no need to add in Dumbledore and Pug and every other wizard you can think of.)
All of this would have been fine if it were condensed into one chapter, perhaps titled, "Our recommendations if you enjoy some aspect of Discworld." In such a chapter the authors could have discussed the similarities and differences between Discworld and everything else, and it would have been appropriate. Instead, these comparisons are scattered throughout the book, often in the form of multi-page tables which consist almost entirely of pointless information. I like Earthsea, but I want to read about Ridcully's character, not about whether he could beat Ged in a fight. Who cares?
And if you must compare contemporaries, why no references to Douglas Adams, A Lee Martinez, Robert Asprin, Alan Dean Foster, or Tom whatshisface, authors who actually also write humorous or satiric fantasy/scifi loosely based on mythology, and whose work is often considered to be within the same subgenre as Pratchett's books? Unlike EVERY SINGLE AUTHOR mentioned in this book? Nobody thinks, "Hey, my friend enjoys Discworld, time to recommend some of that hilarious Robert Jordan!" And they mention JK Rowling and Stephanie Meyer AT ALL?! ARGHHHhhhhhh
One entire unnecessary chapter was about the mystery genre. Sam Vimes is indeed related to Sam Spade and Mike Hammer, but you could just give us a few paragraphs of explanation, especially as there's a later chapter about the Watch. The Watch books have more in common with police (sometimes military) procedurals, so there's no need to spend a whole 20+ pages talking about types of mystery novels, especially as none of the other subgenres are related.
5. "How about Amazonian strawberry poison dart frogs? They're not in Discworld. We're just mentioning them because we think they're cool." ARRGGHHHHH YOU SUCKKKK