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Was Homer really blind, or was that just his shtick? Was Dante a righty or a lefty? Why aren't there any pictures of Jane Austen in a bikini? What made Oscar so Wilde? How much did Hemingway? These are just some of the many great questions of Western literature ignored in this book. From the author of A Prairie Home Companion's beloved "Five-Minute Classics" comes The Fiv Was Homer really blind, or was that just his shtick? Was Dante a righty or a lefty? Why aren't there any pictures of Jane Austen in a bikini? What made Oscar so Wilde? How much did Hemingway? These are just some of the many great questions of Western literature ignored in this book. From the author of A Prairie Home Companion's beloved "Five-Minute Classics" comes The Five-Minute Iliad and Other Instant Classics, a witty and profane lampoon of the Western literary canon -- the Spinal Tap of literature. "I will never write such wordy trash again," Leo Tolstoy said of War and Peace after reading Homer in the original Greek. Tolstoy's pledge inspired humorist Greg Nagan to whet his double-edged verbal sword and offer this gleefully twisted take on what contemporary readings of the Great Books say about our society today. From The Iliad to On the Road, these fifteen parodies provide a riotous romp through Western civilization (one version of it, anyway) from Homer to Kerouac, from Ancient Greece to Postwar America, from the Lyrical Epic to the Breathless Gush. Nagan's mirthful mayhem will delight those who've read the Great Books, and those who haven't read them will find these literary caricatures entertaining in their own right.


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Was Homer really blind, or was that just his shtick? Was Dante a righty or a lefty? Why aren't there any pictures of Jane Austen in a bikini? What made Oscar so Wilde? How much did Hemingway? These are just some of the many great questions of Western literature ignored in this book. From the author of A Prairie Home Companion's beloved "Five-Minute Classics" comes The Fiv Was Homer really blind, or was that just his shtick? Was Dante a righty or a lefty? Why aren't there any pictures of Jane Austen in a bikini? What made Oscar so Wilde? How much did Hemingway? These are just some of the many great questions of Western literature ignored in this book. From the author of A Prairie Home Companion's beloved "Five-Minute Classics" comes The Five-Minute Iliad and Other Instant Classics, a witty and profane lampoon of the Western literary canon -- the Spinal Tap of literature. "I will never write such wordy trash again," Leo Tolstoy said of War and Peace after reading Homer in the original Greek. Tolstoy's pledge inspired humorist Greg Nagan to whet his double-edged verbal sword and offer this gleefully twisted take on what contemporary readings of the Great Books say about our society today. From The Iliad to On the Road, these fifteen parodies provide a riotous romp through Western civilization (one version of it, anyway) from Homer to Kerouac, from Ancient Greece to Postwar America, from the Lyrical Epic to the Breathless Gush. Nagan's mirthful mayhem will delight those who've read the Great Books, and those who haven't read them will find these literary caricatures entertaining in their own right.

30 review for The 5-Minute Iliad and Other Instant Classics: Great Books For The Short Attention Span

  1. 5 out of 5

    Trekscribbler

    THE FIVE MINUTE ILIAD is definitely funny if ... you've read the classic upon which the 5-minute translation is based. If you haven't, THE 5-MINUTE ILIAD AND OTHER INSTANT CLASSICS still provide plenty of merriment -- with maybe a touch of confusion. (In particular, Bram Stoker's "Dracula" is an absolute howler and George Orwell's "1984" might even have you running to pick up a copy of the original to find all of the hints.) While a few of the 'instant classics' do feel like one-note jokes that THE FIVE MINUTE ILIAD is definitely funny if ... you've read the classic upon which the 5-minute translation is based. If you haven't, THE 5-MINUTE ILIAD AND OTHER INSTANT CLASSICS still provide plenty of merriment -- with maybe a touch of confusion. (In particular, Bram Stoker's "Dracula" is an absolute howler and George Orwell's "1984" might even have you running to pick up a copy of the original to find all of the hints.) While a few of the 'instant classics' do feel like one-note jokes that go on for several pages, it's still all in good fun at no one's expense ... other than a few of civilization's most revered authors. Nagan's observation's about Western Civilization and the expanse of its subsequent culture, however, are perhaps the finest notes of pure mirth in the book ... I'd almost wish he'd dedicate a book to that subject alone!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Joey

    One of my best friends/mentors is an intelligent, kindhearted family man who hates public speaking. He will be the first to tell you that as soon as he starts talking publicly, he blacks out. The end result is something between Michael Scott explaining his leadership strategy and Chris Farley interviewing Paul McCartney. This book, using that voice, summarizes fifteen pieces of classic Western literature. The end result is a clever, enjoyable stroll through the history of great books. In chronol One of my best friends/mentors is an intelligent, kindhearted family man who hates public speaking. He will be the first to tell you that as soon as he starts talking publicly, he blacks out. The end result is something between Michael Scott explaining his leadership strategy and Chris Farley interviewing Paul McCartney. This book, using that voice, summarizes fifteen pieces of classic Western literature. The end result is a clever, enjoyable stroll through the history of great books. In chronological order, Nagan truncates each of the classic stories to approximately a dozen pages. Each section includes a somewhat factual summary of both the author and context in which the book was written. Nagan also generally writes in the style of the book he is covering. This choice works best in books with very strong voices, like Moby-Dick: "The boat turned slowly, too slowly, as the whale surged toward her, gathering momentum, plowing through the water so furiously as to send up a foamy spray as he swam, until at last he struck her amidships, and the boat shuddered, and the masts fell, and those aboard tripped and fell into one another, and in the galley the cook dropped the birthday cake he’d been preparing and fell face first into it, and the Pequod began to sink." The book probably works best if you have read the books satirized because you’ll understand the little jokes (“Hey eyes shining, her voice trembling, her calves twitching, she read from the fourth gospel,” – Dostoyevksy”) peppered throughout the section. However, I’ve never read Dracula and that section might’ve been my favorite send-up in the book. If you think that these excerpts are funny, read the book. If you don’t think it’s funny, this book won’t be for you.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    Having read this, I no longer feel the necessity to read Beowulf, Ulysses, and other so-called "classics". Thank you, Mr. Nagan. A few notes: "June 16 came and went in Dublin." Shortest synopsis in history. Re: Ulysses. Re: Madame Bovary. I'm not sure whether this was intentional, but the author consistently used the word "chapeau" (hat) where "chateau" (castle) should have been used. Rather annoying.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Trudy

    Very clever and humorous (although often very subtly) treatment of 15 classics of literature. Students: do not let this be a substitute for reading the Cliff's Notes or even (gasp!) the actual works themselves.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Dwayne Coleman

    Funny, if a little silly in places.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Shar

    Amusing for an English Major who has already read the works discussed, but not sure it holds up if you haven’t read the pieces discussed. Ends up being a long inside joke.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Vikram Nijhawan

    A more comedic -- albeit less informative -- alternative to Sparknotes.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Gallup

    I began with mixed feelings about the idea of irreverent summaries of classics of Western literature. But I'm not above having fun with the material, and noted the author's effort at preserving something of the original language use, and so enjoyed the first few selections. From The Iliad: "Achilles loved Patroclus--not like that, but you know, the way guys love each other-- and he didn't want Patroclus to die, so he told him: 'Listen. Take my armor. Take my men. Fight the Trojans, kick their butts. I began with mixed feelings about the idea of irreverent summaries of classics of Western literature. But I'm not above having fun with the material, and noted the author's effort at preserving something of the original language use, and so enjoyed the first few selections. From The Iliad: "Achilles loved Patroclus--not like that, but you know, the way guys love each other-- and he didn't want Patroclus to die, so he told him: 'Listen. Take my armor. Take my men. Fight the Trojans, kick their butts. But I won't fight, I can't fight, until Agamemnon say's he's sorry-- and he can't just say it, he has to really mean it.' And Patroclus was like, 'Okay, cool.' And Achilles said, 'One more thing: don't mess with Hector. I mean it.' And Patroclus was all, whatever. Then, from Paradise Lost: "Saieth Adam, 'Thou hast sealed thy Doom, Brought the Disfavor of our Creator Upon thyself, O wretched woman!" Saith Eve unto him, 'Yes, mine love, Yes! 'Tis true, I am wretched, I am weak, And therefore cannot suffer this alone: If you really loved me you'd eat some too.'" Humor, however, is tricky. This kind can pale after a few pages, especially if the author lets slip hints that he might feel a little superior to his subject matter. Perhaps if I'd read this in small doses I'd have been more tolerant. My smiles began to feel strained during the send-up of Sense and Sensibility. And my biggest single gripe? Nagan ought simply to have skipped Ulysses altogether if, as appears to be the case, he didn't feel equal to the challenge. On the other hand, the treatment of A Christmas Carol was probably his most clever. The ghosts who visit Scrooge bring not scenes from past, present and future but rather excerpts from other Dickens novels. I was reminded fleetingly of Jasper Fforde's "Thursday Next" series. In the end, I still have misgivings about this project in general and Nagan's supposedly witty commentary about Western Civ in particular. This, I presume, has the general flavor of today's humanities college curricula, which might be connected to the plummeting interest being shown in such majors. Meh. Better get down off the stump before this degenerates into more of a rant.

  9. 5 out of 5

    MsBrie

    Did you skip reading Crime and Punishment, 1984, and Sense and Sensibility? Have you made it your personal goal to never read the Iliad? Then this book is for you. Nagan expertly cuts all the unimportant stuff out of the classics, shortens them so you can read them in only 5 minutes each, and adds a bit of humor so you actually want to read them. I tested my new familiarity with the classics by discussing The Iliad with a friend who was taking Great Books. She couldn’t tell I’d never actually re Did you skip reading Crime and Punishment, 1984, and Sense and Sensibility? Have you made it your personal goal to never read the Iliad? Then this book is for you. Nagan expertly cuts all the unimportant stuff out of the classics, shortens them so you can read them in only 5 minutes each, and adds a bit of humor so you actually want to read them. I tested my new familiarity with the classics by discussing The Iliad with a friend who was taking Great Books. She couldn’t tell I’d never actually read it! This book allows average people to experience the classics without actually reading them. The 5 Minute Iliad was hilarious and I feel 1000 times smarter after reading it. Now I can expertly discuss the plots from Dracula, The Old Man and the Sea, Catcher in the Rye and other ordinarily dull classics. Whether you’ve never read these novels or you’d like to read the short satirical versions, The 5 Minute Iliad is an excellent read.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jen3n

    A very cute and highly intelligent sum-up/send-up of some of the great works in Western Literature. Some of my favorites from this book include the condensed version of Dante Alighieri's Inferno (written in limrick form), and James Joyce's Ulysses (summed up for this book in one sentence. A quote from the back flap calls this book gentle and weird, and to that I'd like to add clever and suprising. Recommended, if you like this sort of thing. A very cute and highly intelligent sum-up/send-up of some of the great works in Western Literature. Some of my favorites from this book include the condensed version of Dante Alighieri's Inferno (written in limrick form), and James Joyce's Ulysses (summed up for this book in one sentence. A quote from the back flap calls this book gentle and weird, and to that I'd like to add clever and suprising. Recommended, if you like this sort of thing.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Alex

    Putting humor in long-form becomes problematic for me because once you "get" the joke, you keep rehashing it page after page after page, so there was some staleness to 5-Minute Iliad once I got into the pattern of Nagan's humor. On the other hand, since it was broken up into short stories it minimized the monotony of the humor. On a third hand, if I were some three-handed beast, the final chapters about "On the Road" and "Catcher in the Rye" felt like his weakest efforts, so I kind of ended the Putting humor in long-form becomes problematic for me because once you "get" the joke, you keep rehashing it page after page after page, so there was some staleness to 5-Minute Iliad once I got into the pattern of Nagan's humor. On the other hand, since it was broken up into short stories it minimized the monotony of the humor. On a third hand, if I were some three-handed beast, the final chapters about "On the Road" and "Catcher in the Rye" felt like his weakest efforts, so I kind of ended the book with not the best warm and fuzzy feeling. And if I had a bonus hand, this book really makes me wanna read Dorian Gray because it sounds awesome!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kate N

    I picked up this book for my kids to read, thinking it would be a brief telling of some classics. I'm glad I read it first because it really isn't appropriate for kids. They wouldn't understand this type of humor and there is some crass-ness. I had previously read only 3 of these 15 classics and those were actually quite humorous in the way it was retold. But it was hard to understand the humor in the other stories when I didn't know the story very well, so I got a little bored. I think if you kno I picked up this book for my kids to read, thinking it would be a brief telling of some classics. I'm glad I read it first because it really isn't appropriate for kids. They wouldn't understand this type of humor and there is some crass-ness. I had previously read only 3 of these 15 classics and those were actually quite humorous in the way it was retold. But it was hard to understand the humor in the other stories when I didn't know the story very well, so I got a little bored. I think if you know these stories already, you might enjoy this twist.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jay

    I can't speak for anyone who is reading these excellent parodies without having read the originals, but for someone who has read these books... this is really enjoyable. The author does a great job of capturing the flavor of each story, putting in in a humorous context (with tendrils of reality), including a quote from the book itself, and getting all that work done in just a few pages. I liked all of them so much... Dracula might have been my favorite, but they are all so well done. My only com I can't speak for anyone who is reading these excellent parodies without having read the originals, but for someone who has read these books... this is really enjoyable. The author does a great job of capturing the flavor of each story, putting in in a humorous context (with tendrils of reality), including a quote from the book itself, and getting all that work done in just a few pages. I liked all of them so much... Dracula might have been my favorite, but they are all so well done. My only complaint: I wanted more.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Elhana

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Although it seems like this books introduces you to classics, it is best enjoyed to know the classics first. That way you'd *get* the joke. My favourites are probably "Crime and Punishment" (Rasholnikov Sonofabich) with all its depressing Russian life, "Paradise Lost," and the most surprising of all, "Ulysses." But the awesome part of all is definitely "The Five-Minute History of Western Civ." I highly recommend you to read this book if you're familiar with the hi I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Although it seems like this books introduces you to classics, it is best enjoyed to know the classics first. That way you'd *get* the joke. My favourites are probably "Crime and Punishment" (Rasholnikov Sonofabich) with all its depressing Russian life, "Paradise Lost," and the most surprising of all, "Ulysses." But the awesome part of all is definitely "The Five-Minute History of Western Civ." I highly recommend you to read this book if you're familiar with the history of Western Civilisation and of course Western literature.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Tricia

    Ok, I admit, sometimes I am a cheater and want to know the stories of all the great classics, but not go to all of the work. That is why I checked this book out. The author is very negative. His work is full of swear words, tongue in cheek antagonisms of all of the works. There are nude drawings at the beginning of a number of the stories. I guess I might have to go to more work to actually enjoy the classics. I would not recommend this one.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Adam

    This book kicks a lot of butt. Playful recreations of classic books in a more modern attention span. My favorite is "1984." It opens up, more or less, saying "everything in the future sucks," and it was enough to get me rolling. let's see, catcher in the rye, iliad, Joyce's ulysses, and about ten others i can't remember cause i read this ages ago.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Z

    I enjoy this book quite a bit. I've read it several times, which has to mean something. It's particularly amusing if you're familiar with the work being parodied, though - at least in the case of Crime and Punishment - it's the parody that encouraged me to read the actual work, if only because it seemed like it would be hilarious.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    This is book 1 for week "five". It is a kind of hit and miss set of paraphrased classics. I loved Nagan's brief overview of western history, and his versions of: The Inferno (in limericks), 1984, Dracula, and Ulyses. His versions of Sense and Sensibility and A Christmas Carol were less entertaining.

  19. 5 out of 5

    D Books

    Hilarious! I read this book years ago when it first came out and it just tickled me to death! Picture a comedian trying to tell you about different works of historic literature and this is it. You will not be disappointed! I just wish that this author would have continued to write more funny books like this.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Phil Wardlow

    This had some charm. The way Mr. Nagan chose to write his "synopsis", in the style of the original author, was clever and some were very good. This would have been a better book for me had I read most of the books listed. As it was, I found the books I had read to be well covered in an entertaining fashion.

  21. 5 out of 5

    April

    A clever, artistic re-write of a good-sized handful of "Lit Classics" in very quick, amusing, and intriguing ways. A few are almost as good as a Thug Notes riff on the story; some are just down-right funny (even if you HAVEN'T read the classic in question) and a few actually made me want to maybe pick up the riffed-on classic to read it for real. Definitely worth the read :)

  22. 5 out of 5

    Leslie

    This was a fun read. It was fun to read the satiric summaries of books I had read in high school in college. I laughed so hard at the synopsis of Ulysses b/c I had to read that in college and it made no sense at the time. The Five-Minute Iliad cleared that one up for me.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Joey Pruger

    Hilarious. Not only are a number of western civilization's classics summarized and spoofed, but he writes each one in the style of the original. My personal favorites are his takes on Paradise Lost and Ulysses.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Kat

    I have only read a couple of the works that these humorous abridgements were based on, but I can say that Dracula and The Metamorphosis were very accurate indeed. My favorite is still probably the Iliad, but the Inferno done in limerick form is also quite excellent.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Paul Bard

    A pleasant, humorous, diverting half-hour read. Good fun. The Illiad translation is the best, and the others at least are better introductions to the classics than the dreary scholarly intros that Penguin Books do, where they name everything bad about the book and spoil the ending.

  26. 4 out of 5

    William Sariego

    You have to be familiar with the classics of Western literature or much of the humor will be lost. If you are at least passingly familiar, and have a sense of humor, this is a wonderful, light read that will cause a grin or two.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Molly McBisterson

    This was supposed to be funny. It really wasn't.

  28. 5 out of 5

    angrykitty

    this is great. the best is ulysses. it takes the book that everyone always says is the greatest book ever written and it sums it up in like four words.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Christina

    okay I read this with my 15 year old and I have to say, I could not stop laughing. The title says it all

  30. 4 out of 5

    Tami Lowe

    Trash...

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