SCOTT SIMON, host:

There's a large format book out this holiday season that's filled with inaccuracies, exaggerations, disinformation and boldface lies. I mean, from the very cover, which advertises free glove inside; from page one, which says 73rd edition. There are also maps, tables, pie charts and photos that are fabricated, twisted and mocked to support. This stereotypes an outrageous, indefensible falsehoods. Truly, a book for the whole family to treasure.

The Onion's "Our Dumb World: Atlas of the Planet Earth" is a comprehensive, if often slanderous, reference atlas of the world - all 50 U.S. states and 168, 196, whatever, nations of the world.

Joe Randazzo, associate editor of the The Onion and an editor of "Our Dumb World" joins us from New York.

Mr. Randazzo: Thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. JOE RANDAZZO (Associate Editor, The Onion; Editor, "Our Dumb World: The Onion's Atlas of the Planet Earth"): Thanks for having me.

SIMON: And describe to us the number of scholars, cartographers and other top (unintelligible) professionals that were involved in assembling a volume this comprehensive.

Mr. RANDAZZO: Well, you know, as you mentioned, it's the 73rd edition. So what we really wanted to do for this edition, unlike the previous 72, was have maps that were not hand-drawn by children. So we got some professional mapmakers to come along. I think they're called cartographers. We described for them what we would like the countries to look like. They then drew them out. And many of the writers were actually sent to the very depths of the Internet to research. I went to africa.com. So we tried not to leave our homes as much as possible in order to, you know, create the most accurate portrayal of the entire outside world.

SIMON: Let's go through the book, if we can. Some of the history, I think, was absolutely fascinating. For example, I didn't know April 19, 1775, Paul Revere rides the streets of Boston, warning the British are coming. But scholars point out Revere was a paranoid schizophrenic who had made midnight rides warning of an imminent British attack on the same Boston roads every night for the previous three years.

Mr. RANDAZZO: Yeah, that's a little known fact. That one was hard to uncover.

SIMON: Let's go through the book of nations that you have here. Cuba is one of the early ones. And you got a remarkable picture here of Che Guevara wearing, in fact, a Che Guevara T-shirt.

Mr. RANDAZZO: Yeah. He started that trend - not many people know that - in the late 1960s. He started wearing that. He didn't even realize that it was his own image on the T-shirt. He just liked the fit of it. It breathed, which is important…

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. RANDAZZO: …for guerilla warfare in the jungle.

SIMON: Under the entry for Madagascar, you revealed that Madagascar, this island nation off the coast of Africa, is, in fact, ruled by lemurs.

Mr. RANDAZZO: Yes, since 1965, I believe.

SIMON: Yeah. The picture here of the chief of state of Madagascar, it's - I must say, has a really executive presence when you look at him.

Mr. RANDAZZO: He does. I mean, he wants to exude the sort of Western pro-business, very forceful leadership. And he has a beautifully cut suit here that's, you know, tailored in Italy.

SIMON: But he's a lemur, which I guess is what rushed your attention the first time you see it.

Mr. RANDAZZO: Yeah. I mean, at first, you really are just, I think, taken by the cut of the suit. And then you notice that it's a monkey.

SIMON: Let me ask you about Sudan - a nation that we hear about often in the news. You say all better now. Thanks to you.

Mr. RANDAZZO: Yeah.

SIMON: Once the site of the bloodiest conflicts in history, Sudan saw its senseless genocide come to a sudden and unexpected end in 2007, when the nation heard that a woman in Iowa was wearing a Save Darfur T-shirt.

Mr. RANDAZZO: Yeah. I mean, it's one of the true success stories of Africa. They have been literally bogged down in civil war for years, up until the moment that they learned that an American teenager - I believe it was in Nebraska - had told some of her friends that what was going on there sucked. And as soon as they heard this, they called off the entire genocide. Stopped it dead right there.

SIMON: Let me ask you as we move on to Europe, if we could, about Ireland. The header on the article on Ireland says blowing their pot of gold on whiskey.

Mr. RANDAZZO: Right.

SIMON: Could you read that paragraph?

Mr. RANDAZZO: Certainly. I'm half-Irish so this is a very interesting one for me to research

SIMON: I'm half-Irish too. So we should note we have an entire Irishman present then.

Mr. RANDAZZO: Oh, yeah.

(Reading) After centuries of subjugation by the English and years of chronic poverty, the Emerald Isle enjoyed an incredible economic turnaround in the 1990s. And it at last managed to beat the stereotype of the poor, drunken, fighting Irishmen into a bloody pulp.

SIMON: Now, this is a very moving success story in your (unintelligible). I mean, the way you describe it, Irish people are able to pay a lot more for their drinks at this particular (unintelligible).

Mr. RANDAZZO: Oh, they can afford a very nice micro brews, you know, instead of just the cheap local beer. That's the kind of economic boom that they've had.

SIMON: You take a look at some of the map entries here, which I found illustrative. You've got an X at the point where you say Frank McCord, desperately trying to remember other abusive cousins to write about.

Mr. RANDAZZO: Yeah.

SIMON: A dotted says entire city passed out in 1806.

Mr. RANDAZZO: Uh-hmm. Woke up in 1809.

SIMON: If we could turn to France just a couple of pages later, home to the Earth's entire population. The 62.7 million people, every single one of the planet's 427 cities and all of its history, culture and beauty, France is the only country in the world.

Mr. RANDAZZO: I know. We call France One Nation Above God because France is the birthplace of art and aviation, as well as democracy, coffee, man, Buddhism, socialism, reggae, John Wayne, pasta, karate, the American Revolution, arrogance, space exploration, the Nile River and everything else that has ever come to pass.

SIMON: What was the most surprising thing you think you discovered in this volume?

Mr. RANDAZZO: That Belgium is still around.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. RANDAZZO: That was amazing to me. I thought that they were done away with after World War II. But it's still a country.

SIMON: Mr. Randazzo, thank you very much and congratulations in you, the editors of The Onion, for putting together a vivid and enthralling volume of misinformation.

Mr. RANDAZZO: Thank you so much for having me.

SIMON: Joe Randazzo, associate editor of The Onion and an editor of the new volume "Our Dumb World: Atlas of the Planet Earth."

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.