In his Notebooks, Lazarus Long argues that "Stupidity is the only universal capital crime; the sentence is death". The Darwin Awards offers proof of just how stupid mankind can be. Taking its title from the cult Web site of the same name which Northcutt set up in 1993, the book offers a collection of cautionary tales of intensely stupid behaviour. Loosely based on Darwin's theory of natural selection, the idea behind the Darwin Awards is that a person can be so stupid that it would be detrimental to the human race for their genes to survive. If, therefore, someone was to behave so stupidly that they died or rendered themselves unable to reproduce, they would be doing the rest of us a favour by removing themselves from the gene pool. It is this self-sacrifice which the Web site--and now the book--applauds and rewards, although, of course, nearly all Darwin Awards are necessarily posthumous. As the book's introduction explains: "If someone does manage to survive an incredibly stupid feat, then his genes de facto must have something to offer [and] he is therefore not eligible for a Darwin award".
Having explained the basic premise behind the awards, the book catalogues examples of foolish, and often extremely funny, misadventures in sections such as watery deaths, fatal ingenuity and sex-related incidents. What sets the Darwin Awards apart from other apparently similar books of urban myths is the care taken by Northcutt to verify the stories which are then classified as "confirmed" (by reputable newspaper articles, or confirmed TV reports), "unconfirmed" and "urban myths". On top of this, the book draws on surveys carried out on the Web site to provide a glimpse into the thoughts of those who use it, strengthening the air that this is more than just fun, it is light-hearted research into the way people think. --Anoushka Alexander