by George Carlin



269pp/$22.95/April 2001

Napalm and Silly Putty

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Napalm and Silly Putty is an engaging stream-of-consciousness rant about modern society by iconoclast George Carlin.  Taken from several of his stand-up routines, Carlin attacks a wide variety of modern sins, sometimes on target, other times tilting at windmills, but always in a manner which will make the reader think about what Carlin is saying and trying to decide when he believes what he is saying and when he is trying to make a point through hyperbole.

The book is mixture of essays on a variety of themes concerning everyday life and one-liners, many of which rank among the most humorous comments in the entire book.  The pace of the book is such that it can be read either straight through or in bits and pieces, depending on the time commitments of the reader.  Carlin is interesting and provoking enough that the reader does not get weary of reading the book as an whole, as frequently can happen when reading a collection of essays, which Napalm and Silly Putty essentially is.

Carlin spends some time discussing of the theory of humor in the book, noting that there are some things which some people believe are not appropriate grounds for humor.  Carlin disagrees, but notes that in areas where people are sensitive, it is important to take care when crafting a joke.  That said, portions of this book are likely to offend nearly everyone who picks it up, either because of Carlin’s language use or the ideas he espouses.

If there is a single theme in Napalm and Silly Putty, it is Carlin’s long-time mantra of questioning authority, whether it is teachers, politicians, or anyone else.  He points to casual acceptance of whatever the media says as one of the signs of the downfall of our culture.  He doesn’t ask the reader to denounce authority or its message, but merely to examine the message with an open and intelligent mind and come to its own conclusions.

While reading Napalm and Silly Putty can’t come close to Carlin’s own delivery of his material, the book does get across the feel of a rapid delivery and mounting emotion which is frequently seen in Carlin’s routines.  The absurdity of some of the arguments carefully builds from rational premises, carrying the reader along until suddenly the reader finds himself questioning Carlin’s conclusions in a manner which Carlin would probably approve.

Many books written by comedians are simply observational humor, but the observations contained Napalm and Silly Putty are loaded with social satire.  Because of this, Napalm and Silly Putty cannot only be read as either a humor book or a satire, but it also sticks with the reader long after the covers are closed.

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