It's a cultural institution, a reflection of our national character, a testament to our affection for the absurd. The New Yorker made its publishing debut in 1925 and has been amusing readers ever since. Now, as the revered weekly prepares to celebrate its 80th anniversary, The Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker sure to be the blockbuster book of the holiday season collects 2,004 of the magazine's comics in one uproarious, outsized treasury. Organized into chapters based on decade and subject matter, the cartoons presented here tackle topics of timeless import like dogs, cars, drinking and politics. The pieces span nearly a century and serve as a record of our cultural evolution, documenting the intellectual shifts, political attitudes and moral trends that marked America's coming-of-age. As the pages pass, references to Prohibition and the Depression and the scandal of divorce give way to mentions of drugs and yoga, motorcycles and miniskirts. Indeed, one of the many pleasures offered by this nearly inexhaustible book lies in the comparison of eras: James Thurber's good-natured jibes at humanity, for example, which he produced in the 1930s and '40s, stand in fascinating contrast to Saul Steinberg's contemporary, irony-laden offerings. Over the course of the volume, all of the magazine's classic humorists are represented William Steig, George Booth, Charles Addams, Roz Chast and Gahan Wilson, among countless others all artists who helped define America's sense of humor with their wit and brevity, with their skill at distilling the human experience into the confines of a cartoon. A roster of beloved New Yorker writers, including Ian Frazier, Roger Angell, John Updike and Lillian Ross, contribute introductory essays to each chapter, providing background and context for the selections. Two complementary CDs contain every single cartoon published in the magazine, from February 21, 1925, to February 23, 2004. That's 68,647 different reasons to laugh. Truly a grand anthology. Julie Hale is a writer in Austin, Texas.

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