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NONFICTION : AN INCOMPLETE EDUCATION: From Freud to Floating Currencies . . . Job to Jasper Johns . . . Opera Etiquette to Party Politics . . . Plato's Cave to Plancks' Constant . . . Einstein to Gertrude Stein . . . Twelfth Night to Twelve-Tone Theory . . . Nicaragua to Nanook of the North . . . Half Life to the Afterlife . . . PLUS: How to Tell Shelley From Keats by Judy Jones and William Wilson (Ballantine: $24.95; 656 pp., illustrated).

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July 19, 1987|Gene Stone

What's the difference between hyper and hypo? Which world religion worships 330 million gods? Want to know the maxims of modern architecture? Ever feel like distinguishing between Thomas Aquinas, Thomas a Becket, Thomas More and Thomas a Kempis? What is matter made of? The answers are all in this massive tome, which is designed to teach you everything you forgot you already learned in college.

Divided into 12 disciplines, American Studies to World History, the book's tone is, of all things, humorous, filled with highbrow one-liners: Keats, not Shelley, is "the one you'd play rac1903519092Spring" is "Tarzan among the classics." Spenser's "Faerie Queene" isn't just England's first epic, "it is also its first theme park."

And the humor works, although, after 600 pages, you do begin to feel as though you'd been taking a course in Civilization 101 as taught by Henny Youngman. Still, it is a highly recommended book both for settling arguments and for reference shelves. (By the way, \o7 hyper- \f7 means too much, \o7 hypo- \f7 too little; Hinduism has 330 million gods and 460 million adherents. For the other questions, refer to the book.)

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