"A witty book about wit that steers an elegant path between waggishness and wisdom." ―Stephen Fry
Much more than a knack for snappy comebacks, wit is the quick, instinctive intelligence that allows us to think, say, or do the right thing at the right time in the right place. In this whimsical book, James Geary explores every facet of wittiness, from its role in innovation to why puns are the highest form of wit. Geary reasons that wit is both visual and verbal, physical and intellectual: there’s the serendipitous wit of scientists, the crafty wit of inventors, the optical wit of artists, and the metaphysical wit of philosophers.
In Wit’s End, Geary embraces wit in every form by adopting a different style for each chapter; he writes the section on verbal repartee as a dramatic dialogue, the neuroscience of wit as a scientific paper, the spirituality of wit as a sermon, and other chapters in jive, rap, and the heroic couplets of Alexander Pope. Wit’s End agilely balances psychology, folktales, visual art, and literary history with lighthearted humor and acute insight, drawing upon traditions of wit from around the world.
Entertaining, illuminating, and entirely unique, Wit’s End demonstrates that wit and wisdom are really the same thing.
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About the Author
James Geary is the author of four previous books, including the New York Times bestseller The World in a Phrase, and is the deputy curator at Harvard University’s Nieman Foundation for Journalism. A sought-after speaker and avid juggler, he lives near Boston, Massachusetts.
Table of Contents
Oft Was Thought, An Essay in Sixty-Four Lines 1
One Bad Apple, Or, An Apology for Paronomasia 5
Thirty-Five Days in May 17
Watchers at the Gates of Mind: Wit and Its Relation to Witzelsucht, Malapropisms, and Bipolar Disorder 35
Perfect Witty Expressions and How to Make Them 52
Advanced Banter 62
An Ode to Wit 76
Turning Words 79
My Name Is Wit 91
Slapstick Metaphysics 105
The Chains of Habit 113
Finding Minds 125
Ambiguous Figures 136
Wisdom of the Sages 150
True Wit 163
Wit's End 166
Wit Thanks 177
Notes and Bibliography 181
Illustration Credits 213