Thursday , December 3 2020
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What I’ve been reading: a history of D&D, and a serious guide to humour

Summary:
Not for the first time, I picked up Of Dice & Men: The Story of Dungeons and Dragons and the People Who Play it by David Ewalt. I’ve been researching the history of role-playing games and found Ewalt’s book a useful complement to Jon Peterson’s 720 page brick, Playing at The World. Ewalt’s writing is fluid and engaging, and he can take a paragraph to cover events on which Peterson would lavish fifty pages. (For the avoidance of doubt: I rate both books highly. They’re doing different things.) Peterson’s book is not for the faint-hearted. It’s perfectly well written but no detail is too small to be examined. Ewalt’s book is far easier to read, but he faces another problem: his desire to make the book accessible to non-roleplayers. Naturally I skipped the first chapter of

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Not for the first time, I picked up Of Dice & Men: The Story of Dungeons and Dragons and the People Who Play it by David Ewalt. I’ve been researching the history of role-playing games and found Ewalt’s book a useful complement to Jon Peterson’s 720 page brick, Playing at The World. Ewalt’s writing is fluid and engaging, and he can take a paragraph to cover events on which Peterson would lavish fifty pages. (For the avoidance of doubt: I rate both books highly. They’re doing different things.)

Peterson’s book is not for the faint-hearted. It’s perfectly well written but no detail is too small to be examined. Ewalt’s book is far easier to read, but he faces another problem: his desire to make the book accessible to non-roleplayers. Naturally I skipped the first chapter of explanation, and for that matter the long passages in which Ewalt describes the in-game play. (Maybe it’s brilliant – but, sorry, Dave, I am too busy playing my own games to read about yours.) These passages are all in italic, and so are easy to skim. What’s left of the book is slim, but delightful. For role-players who want a quick and enjoyable guide to the history of the hobby, it is hard to imagine a better book. For non-gamers, I do not know whether they would enjoy or understand, but I can attest that Ewalt has tried hard so he may well have succeeded.

I’ve also been skimming Humour, Seriously: Why Humour Is A Superpower At Work And In Life by Jennifer Aaker and Naomi Bagdonas. Aaker and Bagdonas are business school academics, with Aaker specialising in psychology while Bagdonas is also a consultant and improv comedian. It’s quite a mix! As one might guess the focus is on humour at work: what it is, how it helps us bond, persuade, communicate, or relax, and how to do it right (and wrong).

The result is a high quality version of an airport management book. It has those little conceptual diagrams, which are not my favourite thing, and the stories tend to be bite-size rather than the sweeping business-relevant narratives of (say) Malcolm Gladwell or Michael Lewis. But if you’re looking for actionable advice about management, business ettiquette, how to behave in meetings, etc – then this is a great place to start. It’s original, evidence-based and fun.

Tim Harford
Tim is an economist, journalist and broadcaster. He is author of “Messy” and the million-selling “The Undercover Economist”, a senior columnist at the Financial Times, and the presenter of Radio 4’s “More or Less” and the iTunes-topping series “Fifty Things That Made the Modern Economy”. Tim has spoken at TED, PopTech and the Sydney Opera House and is a visiting fellow of Nuffield College, Oxford.

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