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An Incomplete Education: 3,684 Things You Should Have Learned but Probably Didn't Hardcover – Apr 25 2006

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An Incomplete Education: 3,684 Things You Should Have Learned but Probably Didn't + The New York Times Guide to Essential Knowledge: A Desk Reference for the Curious Mind
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 720 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; 3rd edition (April 25 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345468902
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345468901
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 4.4 x 16.6 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 Kg
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #85,033 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


Praise for An Incomplete Education

–The New York Times

“IT IS PRECISELY THE BOOK THAT I’VE ALWAYS WANTED WITHOUT KNOWING THAT I ALWAYS WANTED IT. . . . It’s for people who have huge gaps in their knowledge of specific areas of culture and intellectual history. . . . Cheerfully, subversively anti-academic.”
–Jon Carrol, San Francisco Chronicle

“MEMORIZE THIS BOOK AND YOU CAN DROP NAMES, ALLUSIONS, AND ARCANE TERMS WITH THE BEST OF THEM, whether you (or they) know what they’re talking about. . . . The book will rekindle warm memories of your favorite courses, favorite professors, favorite books, favorite theories, favorite philosophical paradoxes.”
–Chicago Tribune

“RUSH TO YOUR NEAREST BOOKSTORE AND BUY An Incomplete Education. . . . [It] brings you 10,000 years of information. Imagine the power of knowing where Watteau went when the lights went out!”
–New York Daily News

“ARTICULATE AND IRREVERENT, crammed with facts, figures, drawings, definitions, and historic information sufficient to fill your every gap. . . . Judy Jones and William Wilson . . . tell you everything you should’ve learned but didn’t.

–The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

About the Author

Judy Jones is a freelance writer who lives in Princeton, New Jersey. William Wilson was also a freelance writer. Wilson went to Yale and Jones to Smith, but both have maintained that they got their real educations in the process of writing this book. William Wilson died in 1999.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I admit I came across this book while googling "gifts for guys" - so I won't complain that it's written for a 25 year old male audience - I will just point it out. Hard to believe a woman is the main author of this book - maybe she got her teenage son to jazz it up after she was finished. E.g. after defining several german words commonly used in English, the book says "the German's blew their wad on the nouns, so there are only a few adjectives..." That kind of thing is peppered throughout.
What I will complain about though is that I can't trust the facts . Being Canadian, I flipped with interest to the section on Canadian politics. It says we have a party called the Progressive Democrats, also referred to as Red Tories. (for non-Canadians reading this: this is not accurate, the party was (the book is a few years old) called the Progressive Conservatives, and red tories are members of this centre-right party who lean more towards the left. Small detail but if they couldn't fact check Canada - when we speak the same language and live right next door - then how can I believe the facts in the section on Cambodia?
If there was a more credible book that does the same thing as this one I would buy it instead, but I don't know that such a book exists. This one is fun to read if you can get past the guy talk.
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Format: Hardcover
Great book with loads of info on everything! Reminds me of a "Bathroom reader"; something you can pick up and open at any page when you are feeling the need for some factual food. Great purchase for my mum's Christmas gift. She took it with her to Florida.
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By Joe on May 23 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The perfect amount of useless information about EVERYTHING!
You can school all the other people who don't know what they're talking about.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 93 reviews
84 of 86 people found the following review helpful
Useful, in quite an unexpected way June 3 2007
By Nathaniel - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I found this book to be entirely unlike what I expected. I was hoping for a book that gives snippets of information that adults could use in everyday life but are missing, regarding issues such as grammar, etiquette, law, and so forth. That is not what this book deals with.

Laid forth are the histories of various fields, with respect to the creators, movers, and shakers of the classics and masterpieces. While there is some trivia as such, what you learn from this book is not only how things such as economics, popular music, literature, etc., got started, but the major courses they traversed, i.e., WHY THINGS ARE THE WAY THEY ARE TODAY.

This book won't give you much to boast about at a cocktail party, but will give you an overall understanding of the state of the arts, politics, and the rest of the world in general, which may be of more use than what I had intended on buying in the first place.
64 of 70 people found the following review helpful
An Armchair Education Nov. 9 2006
By Nonetheless - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Have you longed to be able to pick up a reference book for an instant, uncomplicated answer to that vexing question Do you shrink from discussing such topics as why all of Shakespeare's comedies are not "thigh slappers"? Or maybe you caught yourself referring to Evelyn Waugh as "she".

An Incomplete Education is just the sort of book that provides a framework in twelve areas of knowledge including the Arts, Philosophy, Political Science, World History, Music and much more. The original edition was published in 1987; the third updated and expanded edition came out in 2006. It's a book of knowledge that is also very well paced and entertaining. For example, in the literature section, they identify "twelve fictional characters with whom you should have at least a nodding acquaintance"; in political science: "What you need to know before answering a personals ad in the International Herald Tribune".

According to authors Judy Jones and William Wilson, "In a world of bits and bytes, of reruns and fast forwards, of information overloads , . . it feels good to be grounded."

Clearly, this is not a COMPLETE Education. To wit: the title. After all, how would anyone define what might be a COMPLETE education. Rather, the book is a useful volume which helped me to organize my thinking. It is a companion that sits on my bookshelf "at the ready" when questions arise, (what do I really understand about the difference between Shiites and Sunnis) or when a Lexicon is needed to settle the question of whether continual or continuous is the appropriate word. It is a great addition to anyone's library, or a gift for someone who asks a lot of questions. I found myself savoring--and chuckling over-- each section.
48 of 56 people found the following review helpful
By B. A. Eubanks - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I had given this book 4 stars in an earlier review, but AFTER READING OTHER REVIEWER'S COMMENTS (below) I am upgrading my rating to 5 STARS !!

I think that people need to read the book's introduction to see what the book is SUPPOSED to do before they slam it.

No, the book isn't going to be exhaustive or complete. How can it be? It's only one book and it's not even that thick!

The idea is just to learn enough of someone else's subject so you can navigate and know what they are talking about. You will need to read about it in more detail elsewhere, but at least this book will help you get started.

I did not find any SIGNIFICANT factual errors in the book. Perhaps in a book that attempts to cover all knowledge of the known (and unknown) world there might be an itty bitty error here or there, but I did not notice any. One assumes the authors used appropriate consultants for certain subjects. In the subjects that I am trained in, there were no errors.

Also, I did not find the authors to be condescending, nor did the humor interfere with my learning. In fact, my enjoyment and learning were increased.

That said, I would have to agree that completely serious, humorless people will not be happy with this book.
21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Some People Have No Sense Of Humor Sept. 14 2007
By Gunlover - Published on
Format: Hardcover
People who pan this book can't seem to grasp the fact that a reference book doesn't have to be dry and boring to be informative. Not only does this book provide a wealth of information about everything from chemistry to classical music, it is also laugh-out-loud funny!

I bought the first edition of this book years ago, and I still refer back to it often for the simple joy of reading it. I learn something new every time I pick it up.

Highly recommended!
39 of 51 people found the following review helpful
Very Disappointing Sept. 12 2008
By Bradley Buckmiller - Published on
Format: Hardcover
As someone who has read and loved history for many decades, I thought this book would make a great addition to my collection, but I was very disappointed. Much of the information is piece-meal and incomplete, just enticing the reader a bit and then leaving them wondering where the rest of the story is. I was also surprised by the frequent and glaring anti-conservative messages, which were often unrelated to the topics being discussed. I understand that historians are human and have political leanings, but in this book too much opinion tainted the historical message. I was hoping for an informative new take on the topics included, and as I say, I was disappointed.

Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything is a much better read.