Schott's Almanac 2008 by Ben Schott

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Schott's Almanac 2008 by Ben Schott

Category: Politics and Society
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: The annual collection of trivia, ephemera, data and more. Apart from for dipping in to a page at a time it is hard to see what use this really serves.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 352 Date: December 2007
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
ISBN: 978-0747584698

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I am in this book, several times probably, but I still can't hold it in much regard.

I mention one instance of my being in there - as one of the many millions of UK Passport holders. If you need to look the latest estimate up, it's in there. If you need to know what factors were involved in recent traffic accidents - both fatal and otherwise - they're in there. If you think you're up to scratch on the 2007 Big Brother evictees, compare your list with Schott's. And now that the world and his internet knows the 2007 BBC Sport's Personality winner, here's the table of 2006 winners.

This is more than a lot of lists however. As an almanac and not just an encyclopaedia of trivia it deals with the past few months - albeit in a very non-calendrical year, sort of September to August - and gives round-ups of the news (what a lot of terrorism globally, you can only surmise), events, inventions, neologisms and bland celebrity quotes you might have missed. Or have been trying hard to forget.

The main problem with this book filling in all the gaps - serious, trivial, eternal and ephemeral, is illustrated by the back cover - a diagram of who had good years and who didn't, and how long-lasting such effects might be. As a throw-away scale of journalistic simplicity it is mildly interesting, but should it really be kept for posterity? And who's to ever return to it in a few years and declaim it as the editorialising personal opinion masquerading as hard fact that it actually is?

So you get a gazetteer filled with world facts, alongside the latest winners of the prize for oddest book titles. Current affairs like perception of gun crime rub shoulders with how many fetishists have a thing for feet (a lot). Interesting enough mini-essays regarding, say, the London cabbie's Knowledge, can be blundered past by people turning away from a half-page of quotes from Life on Mars. Never before have I encountered such a raggle-taggle mix of data, and never before have I been so aware of how much the editorial team on any reference book can affect the bias of its contents. You might think the whole world is in here - but only one outlook on it actually is. Boo.

I had a hard time reviewing this book - and not because it really isn't a book to plough through, as I'll admit I used to read factoid-style encyclopaedias from cover to cover when I was a lot younger. It's just I found the scatter-gun effect of subjects a bit wearing, the great scope of it all becoming self-parodic by the end (Gordon Brown's Budget Day tie colours, for crivven's sake), and a couple of early details made me lose a lot of trust in it - a ridiculously poor sketch of Hillary Clinton on page 40, and the phrase always loved by the public put under Fluff Freeman.

As a source of nearly-topical trivia for quiz setters, it is right at home. For those wanting an accurate and authoritative round-up of most of the past twelve months, it might serve, depending on your viewpoint - it has to be said that this is so not my 2007. For those stereotypical toilet-seat readers who need a couple of minutes' enlightenment as to recent choices on Desert Island Discs it is perfect.

Don't get me wrong - this is not the hellish spawn of book-seller hype that you might think. There is the usual browser's delight (remember when there was a common non-internet use of that word browser?) in turning the page to something unexpected, which might make your day, or at least for better conversation down the local. It's just that when I wanted to hearken back to my bygone days of absorbing (to whatever extent I don't know) trivia and plain numerical fact, I found a plodding bias towards what I wasn't interested in.

This book is already a huge success - just as the original Schott's Miscellany was with its initial gathering of a profusion of trivia. It's exceedingly well-produced - a great binding, and hardly a typo or error to be seen, and in entabulating seemingly every research finding from the last 15 months has a lot more authority than the online references you might use in its stead.

However if I'm right this annual approach of the unremembered, unmemorable and plain unwanted will, this time next year, be the bane of charity shop owners throughout the land, as piles of copies will be sitting unsold on their shelves. It might well take the entire year that replaces this already out-of-date volume for many of those given it this Christmas to read through it all. I read it in a few days - because I wanted to for the Bookbag, but didn't find it nearly as educational, entertaining and enjoyable as I thought it would be.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If the notion of 'the world in figures' interests you then we can recommend Pocket World in Figures 2008.

Buy Schott's Almanac 2008 by Ben Schott at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Schott's Almanac 2008 by Ben Schott at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Schott's Almanac 2008 by Ben Schott at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Schott's Almanac 2008 by Ben Schott at Amazon.com.


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