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Wit's End: What Wit Is, How It Works, and Why We Need It
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Wit's End: What Wit Is, How It Works, and Why We Need It

3.31  ·  Rating details ·  228 ratings  ·  47 reviews
“A witty book about wit that steers an elegant path between waggishness and wisdom.”—Stephen Fry

In this whimsical book, James Geary explores every facet of wittiness, from its role in innovation to why puns demonstrate the essence of creativity. Geary reasons that wit is both visual and verbal, physical and intellectual: there’s the serendipitous wit of scientists, the cra
Hardcover, 128 pages
Published November 13th 2018 by W. W. Norton Company
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K.J. Charles
Embarrassingly, excruciatingly bad. I'd ask how anyone let this twee nonsense get to publication but a cursory Google tells me it's a bloke who went to Harvard and worked at a bunch of media outlets, so he obviously has important friends. Sadly, they were not good enough friends to tell him not to do this.

The book starts with a prologue written in the style of Alexander Pope, only the heroic couplets *do not scan*. Not even slightly. Geary has no grasp at all of scansion or meter and it's physi
Jul 29, 2019 rated it liked it
I was led to this book by listening to an episode of the "Art of Manliness" podcast that featured an interview with author James Geary. In all honesty, the interview was much more enjoyable for me than this book. I do acknowledge the brilliance demonstrated in the playful delivery of this well-researched thoughtful content, it was just too verbose for me to adequately absorb at this time. At times the word play seems to go far beyond an informative exploration and comes across as simple self-ind ...more
Mar 31, 2019 rated it liked it
This one was ok, but a bit disappointing. I'm all for futzing with form and convention and writing in modes that suit the matter, but some of Geary's playing with genre here was just poorly executed, and I think I would have preferred a straight history of wit. There was a lot more flash here than substance. I did enjoy bits of it, but some sections were tiresome and the flash pretty dim.
Kathryn Bashaar
Dec 30, 2019 rated it liked it
Geary analyzes the topic of wit: what it is, how it is related to creativity and to the ability to let one's mind wander, how to develop it, how to appreciate it, the roles of banter and ambiguity. He mostly deals with verbal wit, but also coves visual and inventive wit.

Each chapter is written in a different style, illustrating some aspect of wit: poems, sermons, dialogs, recounting of classic witty tales.

A rollicking and delightful read, but I don't know if I think it will make me any wittier
Mar 25, 2019 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Nobody
Recommended to David by: Review in WSJ
Let's call it 2.5 stars because there were some good jokes and an occasional "witticism" worth the time. But overall, not a bit memorable, especially since he NEVER came through on the promise of the subtitle -- if I had to write one sentence about what the author thinks wit is, it would be "I know it when I see it." And what he sees most clearly of all is the pun. However, to be totally fair (why, I don't know), he does repetitively say that wit is the often the clash of two or more ideas, or p ...more
Sep 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Each chapter offers the delight of what wit can do. It’s a brilliant way of showing how wit works rather than merely describe it.

Thanks to the publisher for access to the advance reading copy.
Sep 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
When writing a book on humor, you had better be funny. With both whimsical wordplay and a droll demeanor, James Geary gets us to the heart of humor without a minute of monotony.

Geary begins with a defense of puns, suggesting it is not the lowest form of humor but its essence. Puns reveal inner connections we simply haven’t noticed before. As do riddles and all manner of inventiveness.

His fun extends to the makeup of the book. Each chapter offers a tongue-in-cheek imitation a different literary
Russell Atkinson
Aug 09, 2019 rated it liked it
The author muses at the beginning that an analysis of wit or any form of humor may kill the pleasure of it. Unfortunately, that's exactly what he has done in this book. I had hoped it would contain many amusing examples of wittiness, but there are very few. Instead there are lots of quotes and opinions about what wit is or should be. That and a series of bizarre typographic choices like new typefaces and font size for every chapter, changing from one to two columns and back again, italics, color ...more
Michael G
Geary puts wit on the spit. Well done.
Feb 21, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
Ironically, I was bored.
Two Readers in Love
The conceit of the book is that each chapter explores a different topic related to wit (puns, visual jokes, etc.) in a pastiche of some exemplar of wit (the poetry of Alexander Pope, an essay from "The Spectator," jokes, zen koans and Talmudic debate, a art tour, a sermon). The aim is noble but the results are uneven; some chapters were much more sucessful than others.

It's impossible to rate a book that swings about so wildly on a 1 to 5 scale. For me, the bright and funny spots make up for som
Nov 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Geary's Wit's End is not strictly a humor book, though there is plenty of humor within it. In portions of the book he explores how we think and what wit is (and is not) on a historical and even a neurological level. Extensive notes, bibliography, and index are included for those who wish to delve into this subject more deeply.
Loved it, not an easy read but an entertaining and informative one.

This book aims to “to show, not tell, the story of Wit”
She who is most amused is most alive
Paronomasia = the use of a word in different senses or the use of words similar in sound to achieve a specific effect, as humor or a dual meaning; a pun; joc de cuvinte; calambur

In the year 382 Pope Damasus I asked Saint Jerome to translate the Old Latin Bible into the simpler Latin Vulgate, which became the definitive edition of t
Nathan Dowell
Jul 26, 2019 rated it liked it
It is hard imagine both a more fascinating and more worthwhile subject than wit. As C.S. Lewis writes (and Geary approvingly quotes), if one had to choose one word to study throughout history, there can be no better word than "wit." Geary provides many insights into the nature of wit, and does a decent job dispelling the ideas that wit is solely tied to humor and that all puns should be banished to an island of dad-jokes. There are also useful ideas about how to develop your wit and become quick ...more
Mar 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
In the circle of friends I grew up with, being called witty was about the highest praise one could receive. We never bothered to define the term precisely, but rather understood that it implied a degree of cleverness and facility with language that went well beyond just being funny. So, what exactly is wit, how does it function, and why does being considered witty matter so much to us? Those are precisely the questions that James Geary attempts to answer in Wit’s End, his exhaustingly researched ...more
Ben Truong
Mar 31, 2020 rated it liked it
Wit's End: What Wit Is, How It Works, and Why We Need It is a humorous quasi-philosophical self-help book written by James Geary. The book is a playful book that celebrates all forms of wit.

Geary discusses many of the forms wit can take. To add to the fun, he writes each chapter in a style that mimics the topic under discussion. Furthermore, Geary has great fun with the many different styles from essay, a section written in jive, a poem in the form of a rap song, an art history lecture, and even
John Fredrickson
Jan 18, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, humor
This book's problem is that is not direct and serious, nor is it witty itself. The presentation of the material flits between forms: verse, prose, jive, conversational, and other distracting formats. It is not clear to whether this variation is intended to be witty, or is just a playful indulgence - in either case, the inconsistent formatting and presentation of the chapters weakens the book.

What makes this book most disappointing is that one gets the sense that the author has a very large amoun
Matthew Getter
Sep 13, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2019
A decent book, about wit I’m not exactly sure. From the moment I started reading, this book challenged my expectations. Each chapter is written in a different style evocative of wit. Some succeeded while many did not. It’s not a bad gimmick but it’s also not good. Overall the book lacked cohesion; the writing is fine but the flow felt as rambling as a drunk creek. I was confused regarding the author’s overall message of the book. A lot of what he says is interesting, informed, and yes, witty but ...more
Nov 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
James Geary extols all aspects of wit. Starting with puns, then repartee in conversations, jokes, scientific evaluations of brain images associated with wit, visual wit in art (troupe d’oeil), historical, literary, folk tales, biblical and Talmudic references are dissected in a (what else?) witty way. Each chapter is presented in a different style and sometimes font so one can be in dialogue, another in verse, then spiritual sermon, neuroscience in a scientific paper, and jive and rap.
It’s quite
Danni Green
Apr 15, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: for-words
I was really looking forward to this, but I can't remember why. The layout, for one thing, felt like the author was having a protracted inside joke with himself and forgot to let the reader in on it. There were a few interesting and/or clever bits, but even for a book this thin, there weren't really enough of them. The sections on AAVE (which is never referred to as AAVE) were...awkward and horrendous, and I probably wouldn't have read this (or at least been as excited to read it as I was when I ...more
May 21, 2019 rated it did not like it
I'm going to have to declare this book a failure. At the beginning I thought we were going to get somewhere useful with the topic, starting with a little history describing how the "fruit" of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil got written in as an apple in 382 because the adjective meaning "evil," malum, is also the word for "apple" in Latin. But no, we mostly just have a text describing categories and then reiterating common jokes.
Jul 04, 2019 rated it it was ok
Great concept, but it’s weighed down by Geary’s addiction to precious structural affectations (most chapters come “in the form of” something else, which half the time needs to be explained so we can appreciate the author’s cleverness, and tragically includes an attempt at rap). He collects some fun stories and examples of wit, but by the end it all feels a bit repetitive, and I don’t feel I learned much about the topic that wasn’t made clear in chapter 1.
Ivan Mitrovic
Dec 03, 2018 rated it liked it
Not much more than a wit classification book, with chapters devoted to pun, metaphor, jive... and examples. I was hoping for “instructions” on how to train your wit. Found one useful thing though. The book mentioned RAT (Remote Associations Test) which I think is very useful for kids. We played RAT competitions (guess the 4th associative phrase given 3) on a few nights and kids loved them.
Anne Libera
Feb 14, 2019 rated it liked it
I wanted this to be better. I wanted to like it better. There is really good information about comedy, humor, and wit here and there are elements that are conveyed with (yes) true wit in the sense that a truth is genuinely illuminated in a novel and artful fashion. But there is a lot of showing off to wade through to get there.
Jun 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
I love wit! I’m a big fan of the pun! I love when I have to read something twice to realize the “hidden meaning.” I was so happy when I saw this book was coming out and then my daughter (shout out to Tess!) gave it to me for my birthday! I enjoyed it. It is written with wit and was fun. Not for everyone, but definitely right for me. Added plus it was not a long deep tome!!
Andrea Engle
Feb 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-read-2019
The gifted author is obviously a witty follower of his own sage advice ... clever notes on how to be creatively humorous ... a very entertaining read ... although I nearly gave it up when the author proposed a dialogue between Denis Diderot and Madame De Stael ...
Elliot Chalom
Well, it was a good try. A lot of fun and even thoughtful comments in here, sprinkled around a mostly boring text.

This review by "David" sums it up perfectly. No need for me to repeat.
Robert Rich
Nov 12, 2019 rated it it was ok
Oof. This was not good. The author spent too much time trying to be witty and writing each chapter in some kind of thematic way rather than just writing about the history and definition of wit. It was all flash and no substance. Very disappointing.
Dec 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
A very original, informative, and, yes, witty treatise on the whole idea of "wit" - from verbal sparring (I hadn't realized how many terms referring to wit come from fencing) to puns to jokes. My favorite chapter was "Advanced Banter" - told in 40's "hepcat jive".
Ivor Armistead
Nov 16, 2018 rated it liked it
Wit. Amusing, a bit.
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James Geary is the author of Wit's End: What Wit Is, How It Works, and Why We Need It, I Is an Other: The Secret Life of Metaphor and How It Shapes the Way We See the World, Geary's Guide to the World's Great Aphorists, the New York Times bestseller The World in a Phrase: A Brief History of the Aphorism, and The Body Electric: An Anatomy of The New Bionic Senses. He is the deputy curator of the Ni ...more

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