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Help Support Features Interviews Official Indiana Jones Handbook
Official Indiana Jones Handbook interview
by Mitchell Hallock - posted on May 21, 2008
Denise Kiernan and Joseph D'Agnese

What a concept. It makes one think of a Boy Scout manual on steroids, but this is no far-fetched idea. In fact, it’s a real book, and one that you can get at your local bookstore. But will reading and adhering to all the instructions really make you as intrepid as the Man with the Hat and Whip?
Well, I recently had the chance to talk with the authors of The Indiana Jones Handbook: The Complete Adventurer’s Guide from Quirk Books, Denise Kiernan and Joseph D'Agnese, and here is what they had to say about it.


Hi Joe and Denise, I know all Indyfans were excited to see that there was an "Indiana Jones Handbook", as the authors of it, is this really everything you need to be to be like Indy?

Denise Kiernan: Everything except maybe a healthy lack of respect for one human life—your own. We definitely don’t recommend trying this at home.

Joe D’Agnese: I would say it’s everything an “armchair archaeologist” needs to be like Indiana Jones.

Denise: And please stay in your armchairs.

One would have to have a "vivid imagination" to come up with such perilous situations like Indy gets in, is it preparedness that gets him out or a lot of luck?

click to enlarge
Cover of
The Indiana Jones Handbook

Denise: Certainly having become an expert in his field—and several languages, both living and dead—give him a lot more know-how to draw from than the average guy. Of course, even with all his smarts, he still forgets (at first) how to spell Jehovah. But I would say that lot of luck comes into play.

Joe: I agree. He does what a lot of experts do when they’re confronted with a problem. He “pattern-matches.” He says, “Tarantula, fangs, skin…I know what to do.” But having said that, when he is surprised himself at how well something has worked out, those are some of his best moments ever.

Denise: That’s where he’s his most charming, too, when we’re reminded as an audience that he’s kind of a regular guy making things up as he goes along.

If you had to pick just one of the situations that are in this book that you would not want to try and get out of, which would it be?

Denise: I’ve got to go with escaping from the Wrath of God because come on, who wouldn’t want to take at least one little peek?

Joe: I would never want to have to crawl under a moving truck driven by homicidal Nazis.

When it comes to the "crawling critters"; snakes, rats, bugs and others - is there anything the book doesn't cover?

Denise: Let’s see, we cover tarantulas, snakes, crocodiles, rats and insects in general. We even warn of the adorable charms of monkeys. They can’t be trusted.

Joe: And the horrors of giant vampire bats!

Denise: I don’t think we missed anything. I’m sure someone will be quick to point out if we have.

Joe: In fact, we mention a few critters most people won’t think about until they see the new movie.

Now to make sure these ideas work, you have diagrams throughout the book to show the steps one should take, like how to crack a whip, get out of quicksand, etc. Did you leave the rubber raft as a parachute up alone or actually investigate that type of "escape", with dummies or something non perishable?

Denise: We didn’t touch that one. A lot of movie magic went into that escape.

Joe: We had the raft. I just couldn’t get Denise out of the plane.

How were you approached to write this book and what was your initial reaction?

click to enlarge
Chapter 1: Expedition Essentials

Denise: We had recently written a similar how-to book for the same publisher, Quirk, that was based on…Can I double-up on the plugs here?

Joe: Sure, be crass.

Denise: It was 24: The Official CTU Operations Manual. So the publisher asked if we wanted to employ a similar how-to approach to the Indiana Jones movies and we were pretty quick to say yes. We love love love the movies. Writing this was a lot of work, but a lot of fun.

Joe: And an excuse to watch the movies again, this time taking notes.

Denise: Like we need an excuse…

Does being a big Indyfan help crafting this handbook?

Denise: Absolutely.

Joe: I don’t think a non-fan would have brought the same level of enthusiasm to this.

Denise: We’re very grateful as writers to have worked on this project.

Joe: Really, who isn’t a fan of Indiana Jones?

Was most of the research done by watching and rewinding the DVDs?

Denise: I wouldn’t say most, although we did that A LOT. We had access to Lucasfilm’s private Indiana Jones database, which contains all things Indy.

Joe: It was an incredible resource.

Denise: We also did the usual: Books, websites, and some interviews with experts.

The section on avoiding the "wrath of God" is a must read, do you think that shutting your eyes was viable solution to avoiding head melting?

Denise: All we know is that Indy and Marion closed their eyes and were relatively unharmed. Those who chose to look went the way of an LP on the dashboard in August. And remember, the official reports on the events of that day have been hermetically sealed and locked away. We couldn’t get to them.

Joe: And I will remind you that this piece of advice dropped from the lips of Doctor Jones himself, so it must be treated as gospel.

Indiana Jones has said that he "makes it up as he goes", were there ever times you looked at the section you were writing and maybe had a better way to get out of a situation that was done onscreen?

click to enlarge
Cutting a rope bridge

Denise: Wow…Good question. I think we were able to better elaborate on how he handled situations, not necessarily provide better alternatives for handling them. Although, I have to say, he really should have never eaten or drank anything in the presence of Hong Kong gangster Lao Che. We do go into that a bit in the chapter titled “How to Survive If You Are Poisoned.” But that’s not really a better way to handle the situation, that’s more about how to avoid it in the first place.

Joe: I also liked that we were able to unearth and finally explain in delicious detail certain tricks or skills that he did that most viewers never saw on screen. The most famous example is how he managed to survive clinging to a submarine’s periscope in Raiders.

What other projects are you involved in?

Joe and Denise: The 24 book came out several months ago and will be around when the new season starts. And if you really want to geek out with us—and we’re pretty geeky—we published a laymen’s guide to chemistry for the Smithsonian that’s in stores, titled Science 101: Chemistry. (It’s actually funny how many times research for that book overlapped with Indy!) And right now we are currently working on two books: One is a lighthearted look at the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, the other is a personal finance guide for the self-employed, titled Feed the Monkey.

Where can Indyfans learn more about your work?

Joe and Denise: We have a very small, lame website,, that highlights just a little bit of our work. And we have a personal finance blog for anyone who is self-employed, freelance or otherwise independently employed, titled “Freelance Finance” (

Will you be in line for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull to see if any of your handbook ideas work onscreen or have you read the whole script?

Joe and Denise: The stormtroopers wouldn’t let us see the script. We will DEFINITELY be on line opening day.

Thank you very much for your time, and where can Indyfans find the Indiana Jones Handbook?

Joe and Denise: Online, and at all major bookstores. Thanks, Mitchell.

There you have it Indyfans, everything you ever wanted to know about becoming Indiana Jones in a trusty handbook. Now get out there and start practicing!


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