Emus Can't Walk Backwards: Another Round of Dubious Pub Facts by Robert Anwood

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Emus Can't Walk Backwards: Another Round of Dubious Pub Facts by Robert Anwood

Category: Trivia
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Paul Harrop
Reviewed by Paul Harrop
Summary: Another addition to the growing trend for oddball books of bite-sized knowledge. Amusing and informative in equal measure, it'll help pass a short journey or a 'comfort break'.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: September 2007
Publisher: Ebury Press
ISBN: 978-0091921514

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Among the more tiresome legacies of the 80s, apart from mullets and Tony Hadley, is the category of knowledge known as trivia. You could probably also date the currency of the phrase 'urban myth' from that decade - like the one about Bob Holness playing the saxophone on Gerry Rafferty's Baker Street, or that rather less savoury tale about Mark Almond.

Emus Can't Walk Backwards is a product of both of these phenomena: a compendium of what its subtitle calls 'dubious pub facts'. It consists of statements of varying degrees of plausibility, followed by a brief explanation of their veracity or otherwise. Each section covers only a page or two, and ends with a verdict: 'True' or 'False' and another tidbit of related trivia.

The writing style is factual, but not earnest. Author Robert Anwood adopts a sardonic tone, with occasional mocking digs. Robin Williams fans, if such a beast exists, may be dismayed by several swipes at that actor, whom Anwood clearly finds particularly annoying.

The book is divided into categories such as nature, showbiz, science and the law, the first of these a seemingly inexhaustible source of unlikely truths. Nearly all the phenomena stated in this section turn out to be true.

I won't spoil it by giving away too many of these but if a pub bore ever corners you with an assertion about the capabilities of wasps or the stickiness of geckoes, he probably speaks the truth. As in the book's title, and that of the book's predecessor Bears Can't Run Downhill: And 200 Other Dubious Pub Facts Explained, the perambulatory habits of animals seem a particularly rich source of amazement. So we hear about elephants' similar problems with gradients, and the reverse locomotion of flies, as well as the emu problem mentioned in the title.

Illustrated with amusing cartoons in the deceptively childlike style pioneered by Michael Heath, the book does raise the occasional snort of laughter. One entry gets carried away with the spirit of the pub fact and fabricates away mendaciously, but retains the sliver of plausibility essential to even the most outlandish of these claims.

But most of the entries only go to prove that the world is a very strange place. Unlikely things happen all the time. As the scientist Richard Dawkins always says, science and nature particularly produce far more mind-boggling phenomena than even the most dedicated miracle-worker or spiritualist.

Entertaining, amiably amusing and occasionally educational though this book is, as with all trivia, I did wonder about its purpose in the end. I was sure of the truth of some of the facts - like the one about Brian Eno writing the Windows startup chime, and about your ears carrying on growing. I thought these were widely known enough to be real facts rather than 'pub' ones. Maybe some of the more obscure facts would help the conversationally-challenged to spark a lively debate, but you'd need a good memory to substantiate your claims.

However, I can't imagine even the most dedicated alehouse pedant buying this book to enhance their status down at the Dog and Duck. Despite its useful index, nor do I see it being produced with a triumphant flourish to settle a protracted dispute about how many insect legs you'll find in the average chocolate bar.

So it's probably destined to be a stocking filler, and thereafter an ideal diversion during life's short but necessary sit-downs.

For a slightly different approach to a very similar subject, you could try The End of the Question Mark, or QI: The Book of General Ignorance by John Lloyd.

Buy Emus Can't Walk Backwards: Another Round of Dubious Pub Facts by Robert Anwood at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Emus Can't Walk Backwards: Another Round of Dubious Pub Facts by Robert Anwood at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Emus Can't Walk Backwards: Another Round of Dubious Pub Facts by Robert Anwood at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Emus Can't Walk Backwards: Another Round of Dubious Pub Facts by Robert Anwood at Amazon.com.


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