Mad, the humor magazine founded in 1952, has always been a lively challenger of pop culture, a neutron bomb of irreverence dedicated to wilting pomposity and zapping conformity. To some degree Mad's acute lunacy made the world safe for the '60s comedy troupe the Firesign Theatre, the National Lampoon and Saturday Night Live, if only because their creators grew up reading the inspired work of such Mad artists as Harvey Kurtzman, Don Martin, Sergio Aragonés, Mort Drucker and Dave Berg. Mad is a subject crying out for a great book.
This isn't that book. Reidelbach, coauthor of an amusing history of miniature golf, has written a plodding, absurdly reverent text. The ridiculously tangled layout doesn't help, either. Still, fans may enjoy the small color reproductions of every cover as well as the opportunities for nostalgic grazing among the old cartoons and satires. On the whole, you're better off scarfing up some of Mad's many cheap paperback anthologies than throwing away money on this furshlugginer mess. (Little, Brown, $39.95)