Complete and Utter Failure: A Celebration of Also-Rans, Runners-up, Never-Weres and Total Flops

Overview

Complete & Utter Failure is an original comic meditation on a universal human experience: crushing, abject, humiliating defeat. Here is a book that will allow you to laugh at yourself, and, more important, laugh at other people. Neil Steinberg happily explores the many fascinating facets of failure, and writes about them in unique if sometimes twisted ways. Here you will encounter the horrifying Dickensian ritual of the National Spelling Bee, how products like toaster eggs get on the market, the quest for the...
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Overview

Complete & Utter Failure is an original comic meditation on a universal human experience: crushing, abject, humiliating defeat. Here is a book that will allow you to laugh at yourself, and, more important, laugh at other people. Neil Steinberg happily explores the many fascinating facets of failure, and writes about them in unique if sometimes twisted ways. Here you will encounter the horrifying Dickensian ritual of the National Spelling Bee, how products like toaster eggs get on the market, the quest for the perfect Shiny New Bike, doomed brainiacs, slightly dim British mountaineers, the poor sap who really invented the telephone, the shocking truth about Isaac Newton, and many other interesting failures, famous and obscure. Along the way, Steinberg ruminates about his own myriad miscues and disappointments, beginning with his inability to perform a magic trick at age four (he blames Captain Kangaroo). Complete & Utter Failure is a wonderfully literate, witty book that issues a ringing message for our time: If at first you don't succeed... have a scotch and forget about it.

Steinberg joyfully explores the many fascinating facets of failure, from pointless failure (a brief history of several very dumb attempts to climb Mount Everest) to product failure (Reddi-Bacon, smokeless cigarettes, and Baby Jesus dolls) to institutionalized failure (the National Spelling Bee, in which 8,999,999 children out of 9,000,000 fail in an excruciatingly public and humiliating fashion).

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Chicago Sun-Times reporter Steinberg's book of humor is anything but a ``complete & utter failure.'' Rather, it is an informed and witty look at events, products and people that either never succeeded or first scored victories then faded away. He begins with the New York World's Fair of 1964, a fiscal fiasco from opening day, stops to survey such consumer items as butane candles and the Edsel, and attacks the national Spelling Bee, which turns kids into public failures. He goes on to victims of bad timing; those who insisted the impossible is possible, like inventors of perpetual-motion machines; and those who lived too long, like Newton, who devoted the last decades of his life to alchemy. Much fun. First serial to Granta; QPB and Library of Science Book Club selections. (Nov.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385479707
  • Publisher: Broadway Books
  • Publication date: 10/11/1995
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.23 (h) x 0.86 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Siren Beauty of Ruin 1
1 Tragically Defunct: Product Failure 17
2 Were the Mountain Smaller: Pointless Failure 45
3 Shiver Like Rhesus Monkeys: Institutionalized Failure 83
4 Myths of Telephone History: Bad Timing 143
5 It Can't Be Done: The Lure of the Impossible 167
6 The Calamity of Long Life: Trouble in the Last Act 197
7 The History of Babylon Is Fraught With Sadness: Obscurity and Oblivion Reconsidered 227
Acknowledgments 253
Bibliography 255
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