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You can get the gist of Encyclopedia Paranoiaca from its extensive subtitle: "The Definitive Companion of Things You Absolutely, Positively Must Not Eat, Drink, Wear, Take, Grow, Make, Buy, Use, Do, Permit, Believe, or Let Yourself Be Exposed To... Lethal, Horrible Stuff That You Thought Was Safe, Good, or Healthy... People Who Are Out to Get, Cheat, Steal From, or Otherwise Take Advantage of You; and a Whole Host of Existential Threats and Looming Dooms." National Lampoon co-founder Henry Beard teams up with Christopher Cerf, one of the magazine's first contributing editors, to deliver an alphabetical listing of all the ways in which the world is out to get us.
The entries in this encyclopedia run the gamut from spectacular natural catastrophes to hidden terrors lurking in everyday objects. For example, many Americans and Canadians might be aware of the volcanoes in the Cascade Mountains that could destroy Portland, Seattle or Vancouver at any time. (Remember Mount St. Helens?) Did you know that washing handkerchiefs and undergarments together puts you at risk of contracting harmful bacteria? You could use chlorine bleach to be safe--just mind that the fumes don't give you a pulmonary embolism. Perhaps you should use a hydrogen peroxide/water solution instead. Oh, did we mention that hydrogen peroxide vapors can spontaneously detonate at high temperatures like those in, say, a washing machine on a hot water cycle?
From purses to skinny jeans, mall Santas to solar energy, Beard and Cerf present a litany of the risks we run from the second we get up in the morning to the moment we rest our heads on our pillows (which, incidentally, are filled with allergens and dust mites). Entries are accompanied by helpful symbols to indicate the type of hazard posed, be it poisonous, financially detrimental or, in the case of ceramic toilets, radioactive.
Although readers with hypochondriac tendencies may want to give Encyclopedia Paranoiaca a pass, others will take perverse pleasure in this compendium of tiny horrors. Following the threads from one entry to another, as previously suggested solutions turn out to be just as dangerous as the problems they solved, casts our societal obsession with antibacterial products in a morbidly comical light. While paranoid feelings may result initially, continued reading assures one that, yes, the world is out to get us, yet here we still are. Relax. Just don't ask about gray goo.
***This review originally appeared in Shelf Awareness. Sign up for this free and awesome newsletter at http://www.shelf-awareness.com for the latest news and reviews! This review refers to an ARC provided by Shelf Awareness.***