1,234 QI Facts to Leave You Speechless by John Lloyd, John Mitchinson and James Harkin
|1,234 QI Facts to Leave You Speechless by John Lloyd, John Mitchinson and James Harkin|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: It's official – Belorussian sausage contains no toilet paper. It's official – this book is an unmistakeable winner.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 352||Date: November 2015|
|Publisher: Faber and Faber|
|External links: Author's website|
No US President has ever died in May. There are fewer women on corporate boards in America than there are men named John. Dogs investigate bad smells with their right nostril and good smells with their left. Apollo 11's fuel consumption was seven inches to the gallon. The first occupational disease ever recorded in medical literature was 'chimney sweep's scrotum'. The song 'Yes, We Have No Bananas' was written by Leon Trotsky's nephew. In the 18th Century, King George I declared all pigeon droppings to be the property of the Crown. I hardly think I need to say any more. Review over.
Of course, it's not – I wouldn't deserve my reviewer's crown, or any more early copies, if I just quoted, especially from what must go down as the most quotable book of the year. But the point remains – if you love the esoteric, the startling and the unusual trivia, this is priceless. It's the usual format – there have been three similar books before now, making it even more remarkable that such quality can be sustained – and the pages are once again incredibly hard to ration. Three or four factoids on each page (and I use that term wisely, as I just know Radio 2's afternoon presenters will be reading this out and claiming all the laurels for years to come), and at times a brilliantly quirky chain linking the data – The French for 1960s pop music is 'ye ye'. The French for pie chart is 'un camembert.' Until the 1920s, Camembert was green. Certain American monthlies have dined out on similarly original trivial non-sequiturs.
The bonus for this book is that you have one simple website to prove to yourself the derivation of all these spurious-sounding details of our world. Which was – true fact – down while I was writing this (perhaps they needed Tom Cruise, after all, he helped design the NASA site). So I'm left doubting the Greek cataract cure was pouring molten glass on people's eyes, that red tomatoes came about from a meteor strike 60 million years ago, and that female buffaloes vote on decisions. I also have to quibble about the sixth biggest river in the world is under the sea – especially when the QI book I read only a fortnight ago said something different.
Quite a few of the entries here are down to twisting the truth, and changing the wording of surveys and light research such as that – 45% of people falsely claim to have been skydiving surely should read '45% of people claiming to have skydived are lying', which is a subtle difference. The benefit of so much of this being derived from newsworthy polls and headlines is that the book is incredibly fresh – our local Scrabble club was only talking about the World Champion of the French language game being an Englishman who knows no French a couple of months ago (rather than learning to shave, he just learnt the entire word-list, in a few weeks). The flipside is the wording used here will be out of date in a few months.
Still, statistics can hardly be wrong – if Scotland does leave the UK our annual rainfall average immediately drops by eight inches, which will obviously benefit us all. And my pub-friendly banter is only heightened by these pages. The first BBC radio presenter with a northern accent was hired in the Second World War to make it harder for the Germans to produce fake news bulletins – it's just a change nobody realised WWII was over, he said with only a tinge of regionalism. Still, if you're one of the few people to think this is not a completely valid and incredibly valuable purchase, you could qualify as one of the 19% of Americans who think they're in the top 1% of earners.
I must thank the publishers for my review copy. The book was one of Bookbag's Christmas Gift Recommendations 2015.
Emus Can't Walk Backwards: Another Round of Dubious Pub Facts by Robert Anwood is another source of blanket statements.
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