Newest Trivia Reviews

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1,342 QI Facts To Leave You Flabbergasted by John Lloyd, John Mitchinson, James Harkin and Anne Miller

5star.jpg Trivia

I love the way the QI elves play games with us with these books. That's not to say it's a game of pulling the wool over our eyes, for every entrant in this series has had the equivalent online version for the sources, so every page is replicated with the due links you need to search for proof of their statements. No, the game is Six Degrees of Separation. And they're so good at it, they can do most things in three. So in just three standalone, but thematically linked, phrases, you can get from how to make the sound of an Orc army for Lord of the Rings films to record-breaking nipple hair. From illicit wartime barbers in Italy to American founding father bedroom arrangements, is only three steps – and the path carries on to reach that erstwhile novice stand-up, Ronald Reagan, in two more. It's only two jumps between Donald Trump and Charles Darwin, disconcertingly. Full review...

1,411 QI Facts To Knock You Sideways by John Lloyd, John Mitchinson and James Harkin

4.5star.jpg Trivia

Handsome is as handsome does. And you know what else benefits from being curt and succinct, alongside old housewives' saws like that one? Trivia. I always thought the QI books such as this one to be handsome things – perfectly presenting trivia, four (on rare occasion, three) statements to the page, in a very nice little cubical hardback. Now they're being represented in paperback, but you know what? They're still handsome things. Full review...

1,339 QI Facts To Make Your Jaw Drop by John Lloyd, John Mitchinson and James Harkin

4.5star.jpg Trivia

A spermologer is a collector of trivia. Just that sentence tells you a lot – we're once more in the realm of the curt, succinct approach to the world's information and oddities. It says more, however – beyond the weirdness of the word is the obvious necessity for the word to exist – without people that could be called collectors of trivia you would not need the term. And rest assured, there are currently few people that stand as better spermologers than the chief QI elves. Full review...

From Skedaddle to Selfie: Words of the Generation by Allan Metcalf

3.5star.jpg Trivia

I have to go a roundabout way to introducing this book, so bear with me. It stems partly from dictionaries and the etymology of the language we use, but more so if anything from a different couple of books, and their ideas of generations. The authors of those posited the idea that all those archetypical generations – the Baby Boomers, the Millennials, and those before, in between and since – have their own cyclical pattern, and the history of humanity has been and will be formed by the interplay of just four different kinds, running (with only one exception) in regular order. I don't really hold much store by that, and I certainly didn't know we'd started one since the Millennials – who the heck decides such things, for one? Somebody must have put out an order, as someone here says of something else. But in the same way as generations get defined by collective persons unknown, so do words – and those words are certainly a clue to what was important, predominant and of course spoken in each decade. Full review...

Cathedrals and Abbeys (Amazing and Extraordinary Facts) by Stephen Halliday

4.5star.jpg History

What makes a cathedral? It's not automatically the principal church of anywhere that is made a city – St Davids is a village of 2,000 people, and wasn't always a city, but always had a cathedral, as did Chelmsford. It's not the seat of a bishop – Glasgow has the building but not the person, and hasn't had a bishop since 1690. It's not a minster – that's something completely different, and if you can understand the sign in the delightful Beverley Minster describing the difference, that I saw only the other month, you're a better man I, Gunga Din. Luckily this book doesn't touch on minsters much, and we can understand abbeys, so it's only the vast majority of this book that is saddled with the definition problem. It's clearly not a real problem, and those it does have are by-passable, for this successfully defines a cathedral as somewhere of major importance, fine trivia and greatly worthy of our attention. Full review...

The Shakespeare Trail by Zoe Bramley

4star.jpg Trivia

It has been 400 years since William Shakespeare, the man heralded as the greatest writer in the English language, and England's national poet, died. Shakespeare has made a profound mark on our culture and heritage, yet many aspects of his life remain in the shadows, and many places throughout England have forgotten their association with him. Here, Zoe Bramley takes the reader on a journey through hundreds of places associated with Shakespeare – many whose connections will come as a surprise to most. Filled with intriguing titbits of information about Shakespeare, Elizabethan England, and the places that she talks about, this is no mere travel guide. Full review...

London (Amazing and Extraordinary Facts) by Stephen Halliday

4.5star.jpg Trivia

What makes a city? Is it the materials, such as the very London Stone itself, of mythological repute, that has moved around several times, and now forms part of a WH Smith's branch? (This has nothing, of course, on Temple Bar, which has also been known to walk.) Is it the people – the butchers (Jack the Ripper), the bakers (or whoever set fire to the entire city from Pudding Lane) and the candlestick makers? Is it the infrastructure, from the Underground, whose one-time boss got a medal from Stalin for his success, to the London Bridge itself, that in its own wanderlust means it's highly unlikely the Thames will freeze again? However you define a city, London certainly has a lot going for it as regards weird and wonderful, and the trivial yet fascinating. And, luckily for us, so has this book. Full review...

London Underground (Amazing and Extraordinary Facts) by Stephen Halliday

4star.jpg Travel

From initial worries about smutty, enclosed air with a pungent smell to decades of human hair and engine grease causing escalator fires; from just a few lines connecting London termini to major jaunts out into Metro-land for the suburbia-bound commuters; and from a few religious-minded if financially dodgy pioneer investment managers to Crossrail; the history of the world's most extensive underground system (even when a majority is actually above ground) is fascinating to many. This book is a repository of much that is entirely trivial, but is also pretty much thoroughly interesting. Full review...

Railways (Amazing and Extraordinary Facts) by Julian Holland

3star.jpg Travel

How and when did Laurel and Hardy replace the Duke of York (George VI)? They reopened the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway when peacetime resumed, at whose launch the latter had officiated before the War. What's the worst that can happen when you travel internationally and arrive on a London goods train with no further destination documents? Well, if you're an unidentifiable Peruvian mummy you can get buried as an unknown corpse before the invoice turns up to prove you were wanted in Belgium. After so many miles and so much drama, it's no surprise odd facts and fun trivia derive from our country's trains. This book is designed to be an ideal source of quick articles and fun mini-essays for use in the smallest room. Full review...

Words of a Feather by Graeme Donald

4star.jpg Reference

Words of a Feather. The title alone suggests an engaging read about language, and the book certainly delivers. It pairs seemingly unrelated words, digs up their etymological roots and reveals their common ancestry. The English language, of course, provides rich pickings indeed for a book of this type and it is fascinating to see the hidden meaning behind common and not-so-common words. Some connections are fairly obvious once you read them. For example, the link between grotto and grotesque is easy to grasp: the word grotesque derives from unpleasant figures depicted in murals in Ancient Roman grottoes. Other connections are just extraordinary, like the so-crazy-you-couldn't-make-it-up connection between furnace and fornicate. These two words date back to Ancient Rome when prostitutes took over the city's abandoned baking domes. And some connections are more than a little tenuous, seemingly just a collection of words banded together, as is the case with the insult and salmon pairing. One of my personal favourites: the Italian word schiavo for slave was used to summon or dismiss a slave; this word became corrupted to ciao, a word the more well-heeled among us use instead of goodbye. Full review...

The English Countryside (Amazing and Extraordinary Facts) by Ruth Binney

4star.jpg Animals and Wildlife

I live in the countryside and spend as much time as the weather will allow exploring it, so the chance to read Ruth Binney's The English Countryside was too good to be missed. We've met Ruth before at Bookbag and we know that she writes well and interestingly, but just one thing was worrying me about this book. It's a hardback and beautifully presented but its the size of book that you slip into a pocket or handbag. Would it be rather superficial? Full review...

1,234 QI Facts to Leave You Speechless by John Lloyd, John Mitchinson and James Harkin

5star.jpg Trivia

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 property of the Crown. I hardly think I need say any more. Review over. Full review...

How to Speak Emoji by Fred Benenson

4star.jpg Trivia

Emojis are fun, and there's so much more to them than the smileys of days gone by ? They can be a language unto themselves, though, and I've found that some members of the, ahem, older generation can find themselves a little troubled by them. This book, then, sounds perfect for anyone who needs a little help with this 'language'. Full review...

QI: The Third Book of General Ignorance by John Lloyd, John Mitchinson, James Harkin and Andrew Hunter Murray

4.5star.jpg Trivia

Well done, Hartlepool. You didn't put on trial and kill a shipwrecked monkey thinking it a Napoleonic spy – any more than the several other places thusly accused ever did. Well done, Italy, for making the ciabatta such a global phenomenon it seems like a traditional foodstuff, even if it was invented in 1982. And well done to that famous ice hockey player, Charles Darwin – who was probably playing it, seeing as it was a British invention, long before the Canadians ever realised they might be good at it. Yes, for a book that spends a lot of its time saying 'this didn’t happen,' 'hoojamaflip didn't do this,' and 'that was never thus', it's one that's incredibly easy to be most positive about. Full review...

New Words for Old: Recycling Our Language for the Modern World by Caroline Taggart

3.5star.jpg Trivia

I never declare myself off to have a 'kip', as I recall reading that it originally meant the same amount of sleeping – and activity – as happens in a whorehouse. The word 'cleave' can mean either to split apart, or to connect together, and I'm sure there's another word that has completely changed its meaning from one end of things to another although I can't remember which. Certainly, literally has tried its best to make a full switch through rampant misuse. Such is the nature of our language – fluid both in spelling until moderately recently, and definitely in meaning. This attempt at capturing a corner of the trivia/words/novelty market is interested in such tales from the etymological world – the way we have adapted old words for our own, modern and perhaps very different usages. Certainly, having browsed it over a week, I can declare it a pretty strong attempt. Full review...

The All New University Challenge Quiz Book: Questions, Answers, Facts, Figures and everything in between by Steve Tribe

3.5star.jpg Entertainment

[Cue theme music. Lights up on presenter, who waffles on about establishments providing contestants – De Montfort University, local pub, family unit. Contestants don't, for once, introduce themselves as it's probably a given that they know each other. Contestants imbibe nervous sips of 'water', and settle back.] You all know the rules, so let's not waste time – here's your first starter for ten.

Yes, this book throws no punches and attempts to put you in the spotlight of one of the nation's most superlative televisual institutions – but does it manage it? Full review...

The 50 States: Explore the U.S.A. with 50 fact-filled maps! by Gabrielle Balkan and Sol Linero

2.5star.jpg Children's Non-Fiction

I've often shouted at people on UK quiz programmes for their ignorance of geography about their nation. People just don't seem to have learnt about or been to other areas of the place they call home. But while they get little sympathy from me when they lose the programme's cash prize, I can imagine that it would be much harder for them if they actually lived in a large country, such as the USA. 50 whole states of different size, all with a rich history of their own, their own famous places and their own noted people – the facts involved in absorbing all that's relevant would take a lot of research – or, paradoxically, this handy child-friendly book. Full review...

Very British Problems Abroad by Rob Temple

4star.jpg Humour

Meet, if you haven't already, the phenomenon of the Very British Problem. In this format they're in pithy little comments (of, ooh, about 140 characters in length, for some reason…) and detail the minor things in life that we like nothing more than to inflate to a major factor of life. They can involve manners, staring at things until they mend themselves, hitting things ditto, or the fact that nobody apart from you and I know how to queue properly. And if the idea hits the world outside our shores, then – well, you certainly have a book full of content regarding our attitude and ineptitude abroad. Full review...

Divorced, Beheaded, Died...: The History of Britain's Kings and Queens in Bite-Sized Chunks by Kevin Flude

4.5star.jpg History

History lives. Proof of that sweeping statement can be had in this book, and in the fact that while it only reached the grand old age of six, it has had the dust brushed off it and has been reprinted – and while the present royal incumbent it ends its main narrative with has not changed, other things have. This has quietly been updated to include the reburial of Richard III in Leicester, and seems to have been rereleased at a perfectly apposite time, as only the week before I write these words the Queen has surpassed all those who came before her as our longest serving ruler. Such details may be trivia to some – especially those of us of a more royalist bent – and important facts to others. The perfect balance of that coupling – trivia and detail – is what makes this book so worthwhile. Full review...

Clever Commuter: Puzzles, Tests and Problems to Solve on Your Journey by Dr Gareth Moore

3.5star.jpg Entertainment

The week before I reviewed this book I saw a newspaper article that said that so-called brain-training apps are a waste of time, that they merely replace what we should be doing anyway to keep our grey cells active (multi-tasking, observing, REAL LIFE etc). This is the puzzle book version of a brain training app, and so with all those electronic titles on the market it already had opposition, even before that news came in. But let's face it – who on earth would risk the science being wrong on this occasion? Surely this kind of book should be an inherently essential purchase? Full review...

There Are Tittles in This Title: The Weird World of Words by Mitchell Symons

3.5star.jpg Trivia

I love spending time with Mitchell Symons books. If you don't know him, he's written this book, that book, and a book actually called This Book and a book actually called That Book. He knows his trivia, he gets a lot of info on the page, and can really come across at the best of times as a convivial host. So pair him, as has happened here, with the weird and wonderful world of words and only great things could be expected. Unfortunately, then, only just above average things were expected. Full review...

An Unkindness of Ravens: A Book of Collective Nouns by Chloe Rhodes

5star.jpg Trivia

We have all heard of a Pride of Lions, a Herd of Cattle and a Flock of Birds, but what about the less common, long forgotten collective nouns, like: a Bloat of Hippopotami, a Mutation of Thrushes, a Herd of Harlots or a Superfluity of Nuns? If you are interested in the English language and the origin of words, then you will really enjoy browsing this book. Full review...

Who Invented The Stepover? (And Other Crucial Football Conundrums) by Paul Simpson and Uli Hesse

4star.jpg Sport

In 1982, second division Charlton Athletic staged an unlikely transfer coup by signing former European Footballer of the Year Allan Simonsen. If the thought of the Danish superstar forsaking the glamour of Barcelona for south east London seemed unlikely then consider that Simonsen had previously faked his own death during a World Cup qualifier. Full review...

Outraged of Tunbridge Wells: Original Complaints from Middle England by Nigel Cawthorne

4star.jpg Humour

It was ever thus… cyclists go too fast, without using a hooter or lights; there are hoodlums everywhere one looks, and no public conveniences; people pretend to have qualifications and degrees they haven't rightfully earned; buses are too busy with shopping women who should be indoors already, cooking for their working menfolk… It's a very clever idea to show exactly what is behind the 'disgusted of Tunbridge Wells' tag, and as a book to be shelved alongside those with the wackier letters sent to the Daily Telegraph, these selections from the Royal town's press itself make a great eye-opener to the complaints and complainants of Kent. Full review...

Dedicated to...: The Forgotten Friendships, Hidden Stories and Lost Loves found in Second-hand Books by W B Gooderham

4.5star.jpg Entertainment

I have found many strange and unusual things in second-hand bookshops. I have done one or two strange and unusual things in them as well, but that's a different story. Twice now I have managed to find a second-hand book, completely signed and dedicated by the author, yet discarded by the recipient, and have been able to present the author with the edition at hand and get it re-dedicated. (If I'm not mistaken, the discarders were a neighbouring babysitter, and a teacher of the author's children.) I'll admit that's rarefied, however, and on the whole the scribble you find in second-hand books is from the person who bought it, and gave it as a gift, not the person who wrote it. But even so, the dedication of the donor can be immensely fascinating and open to all kinds of interpretation, as these examples show perfectly clear. Full review...

The Horologicon: A Day's Jaunt Through the Lost Words of the English Language by Mark Forsyth

5star.jpg Trivia

This book just had to be called The Horologicon. Originally it meant a daily diary of devotion for a priest or monk. Our author knows it is a rare word these days and gives it to his modern Book of Hours, which is a guide to similarly obsolete, charming or unusually whimsical words set out, not as others do, as a dictionary, but in essays for every waking hour of the day, and the subject they're most likely to cover. Full review...

Better Than Great by Arthur Plotnik

5star.jpg Trivia

Better Than Great is a bravura, ingeniously inventive, roaringly intelligent thesaurus of praise and acclaim - oh, momma! Where has this paean-worthy, distressingly excellent book, which certainly goes the whole hog, been all my life? Full review...

Why? by Joel Levy

5star.jpg Trivia

Why does the Titanic float but a brick sink? And that water they’re sinking or floating in, why is it wet? And what colour is it, ‘cos it ain’t clear? These questions and many more are answered in this book which may not be a new concept but which is executed extremely well. Full review...

Puzzled by David Astle

4star.jpg Trivia

Words are wonderful enough when they’re just telling you things straight up, but who can resist them when they’re really being playful? Not David Astle, the author of this new title that blows the lid on it all with what he calls 'secrets and clues from a life in words'. Full review...

The Story of English by Joseph Piercy

3star.jpg Trivia

The Story of English sets out to be a potted history of the influences that have shaped our language, from the Lindisfarne Gospels to LOLcats.com. Starting with the pre-Roman Celts and their Ogham alphabet, it goes crashing through fifteen hundred years of linguistic history at a terrific pace to end with an almost audible sigh of relief at the internet age. Full review...

Write. by Phil Daoust (editor)

4.5star.jpg Reference

The Guardian newspaper has for some years now been publishing articles and interviews on how to write. Successful authors, agents and publishers have offered pearls of wisdom in the Guardian Masterclasses for genres as wide-ranging as travel writing, picture books and screenplays. Now their wisdom and their insights have been collected together in this slim volume which will intrigue both the readers and the writers among us. Full review...