I first encountered the Darwin Awards through e-mail. If by chance you haven't heard of them, these awards are bestowed on individuals who remove themselves, or their ability to reproduce, from the gene pool via the performance of an independently verified act that, in the words of Wendy Northcutt, "transcends stupidity." There are "honorable mentions" as well, usually bestowed on those who stop just short of unintentionally killing themselves. Northcutt, who invented the Darwin Awards and has a website dedicated to them, has been compiling the award-winning accounts in annual collections.
Northcutt does not lack for stories. I believe that everyone will be able to relate to at least a couple of these. I actually have two. A gentleman came into my office several years ago wishing to bring a product liability suit against General Motors. He had purchased a van with a new (at the time) feature called "cruise control." The new owner took possession of the vehicle, drove it to I-71 South, and after getting the speed up to 60 or so set the cruise control and, in his words, "laid down to take me a nap," which was soon interrupted when his new purchase met a state-owned guardrail. This unhappy GM customer would not win a Darwin Award because he did not remove himself or his ability to reproduce from the gene pool, but he would almost certainly be considered for an honorable mention. Another gent a few years ago, in an effort to impress upon me the degree and extent of his depression, advised that he had wished to commit suicide. His problem was that he had several .357 caliber bullets, but no corresponding firearm. He accordingly swallowed the bullets and proceeded to hit himself in the stomach with a hammer. It didn't work.
These stories are not in THE DARWIN AWARDS III, though they could have been. If you found those stories interesting, or even hilarious, you will absolutely love pouring through this book. The stories are divided into six classifications: "Law Enforcement: Crime Does Pay," "Men: Omega Male," "Explosions: Short Sharp Shock," "Women: Female Finale," "Technology: Deus Ex Machina," and "Disqualified: Glory Days Gone." The latter chapter consists of stories that were ultimately disqualified from consideration for a Darwin Award but are nonetheless amusing in their own right. As with any story, a great deal of the entertainment is in the telling, and Northcutt has the perfect literary voice for relating these tales of people who get run over by trains while listening for them or the jet ski bandits who are non-recidivists forevermore.
The book is also lovingly and irreverently illustrated, in part by Malcolm McGookin. McGookin drew the devastatingly brilliant cartoon Danger Mouse, among others, and has had his cartoons featured in everything from children's publications to Penthouse. If memory serves, he drew my favorite Penthouse cartoon of all time, which was captioned "She types like a secretary." I'll let you figure it out.
THE DARWIN AWARDS III can be read from cover to cover or picked up and opened at random. Either way, prepare to spend an hour or so with the book each time you open it. It is entertaining, informative and at once inspiring and depressing. Who could ask for more?
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 21, 2011
The Darwin Awards III: Survival of the Fittest