History Without the Boring Bits by Ian Crofton
|History Without the Boring Bits by Ian Crofton|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: The best value trivia book around – never failing to add detail and the oddball facts of life to one's knowledge. Whether for a newcomer to this style of book, or for the completist collector, this is a must-have volume.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 224||Date: October 2008|
|Publisher: Quercus Publishing plc|
I was never one for history, and in fact left the dregs of a history teacher in tatters when I scraped through with a D. Still, history is an odd thing – written by the winners of course, and annoyingly biased in my mind towards the plain. There's no real reason to remember the order of Henry VIII's six wives, but we can only relish the one credited with polydactylism, a third nipple and whatnot (the second one, in fact – whoever that was).
Of course there are people who have deemed that as of lesser import. For the rest of us there is this book, strung through in a wondrous timeline of the bizarre, unusual, unexpected and at times inexplicable. Each entry, whether a couple of words or a full page, is given the year, date if known, and a headline, which I soon switched off from reading, missing nothing. It all adds up to a brilliantly crafted and very authoritative trivia book, with an encyclopaedic breadth and style – never is there any way the author encroaches with his own bias, opinion, sense of humour or any other factor. Nor is there any instance of the illustrations or sheer blank space getting in the way of what is a very good value gift item, as is too often the norm.
Reading through it all, which isn't the brightest approach if you want to absorb the countless details inside, we can find links of our own, such as those stories involving shaving – whether it be the male actor playing the Queen and not fresh-faced enough for his royal command performance, or the shaving of a bear (and how on earth do you go about that, I wonder?!) – or ducks – whether the bestiality trial where the defence alleged a duck was not deemed animal enough to count, or ETA nearly being called ATA before they realised it meant duck.
The shaven bear in fact leads on to a couple of other stories where we need more information – why on earth did we decide to repeal a law banning the hiding in hedgerows in order to mutilate people's noses? And when a marvellous-sounding fire-eater was rumbled, with the tricks of his trade revealed, we're left begging to know what they were.
On the other hand this really does come down as a book replete with information. I can't imagination the library of data and yonks of research it must have taken. If something comes up I knew about, you can bet your loose change it contains more details than I'd come across before – some recent DNA research into Kaspar Hauser, and the woman who 'gave birth to' rabbits for two.
It's the book for people who like the irony of life writ large. The Ottoman sultan who passed a death sentence on people who drank and smoked, died of liver failure. It's perfect for the collector of the minutest detail – Bird's Custard Powder was developed as Mrs Bird was allergic to eggs. It also covers the more notable in an ideal way. France helped invent the EU after twice being offered the consideration of joining the commonwealth or indeed the UK.
I'm not a connoisseur of trivia books ever to dream of thinking of writing one, but I have read more than my fair share of such volumes. For sheer value for money, and the wealth of the odd, this is the best I know of. It dips into things Fortean, protean (the chap who was practically double-jointed everywhere, including his spine) and everything in betwean (tee-hee).
If anything, the title does not do this book many great favours. It's a round-up of life full stop, without the boring bits. OK, it's not flawless – 1900 was not in the 19th century, and those subtitles could have made way for an update since last year's hardback edition (although I only think it's out-of-date when talking of the only British bullfighter, who's now out of retirement again). From covering antiquity to skipping past the rare 19th and 20th century years where nothing exciting enough happened, it covers all bases. We at the Bookbag are immensely impressed, and thank Quercus for sending us a review copy.
There's a different approach, to say the least, in Joined-up Thinking: How to Connect Everything to Everything Else by Stevyn Colgan, which is also worth considering for a gift book this Christmas.
You can read more book reviews or buy History Without the Boring Bits by Ian Crofton at Amazon.com.
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