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The Book of General Ignorance [Paperback]

John Lloyd , John Mitchinson
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 21 2009

This comprehensive catalogue of all the misconceptions, mistakes and misunderstandings in 'common knowledge' will make you wonder why anyone bothers going to school

This is the indispensable compendium of popular misconceptions, misunderstandings and common mistakes culled from the hit BBC show QI. The noticeably stouter QI Book of General Ignorance sets out to show you that a lot of what you think you know is wrong. If, like Alan Davies, you still think Henry VIII had six wives, the Earth has only one moon, that George Washington was the first president of the USA, that Bangkok is the capital of Thailand, that the largest living thing is a blue whale, that Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, that whisky and bagpipes come from Scotland or that Mount Everest is the world's tallest mountain, then there are at least 200 reasons why this is the book for you.

With more than 25% more content, with extra cartoons, hilarious extracts from the TV show and 50 new things you didn’t know, including:

• There are 613 commandments in the Bible
• Vipers, cobras and rattlesnakes are not poisonous
• Newborn babies are indifferent to their mothers
• The Swiss Family weren't called Robinson
• The unluckiest date is Monday the 27th
• You have no muscles in your fingers


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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

If you think you're a trivia expert, British TV men Lloyd (producer of the hit comedy shows Spitting Image and Black Adder) and Mitchinson (writer for Quite Interesting) may disabuse you of the notion that you're a true scholar of random facts-and quickly. Their surprisingly lengthy tome is jam-packed with real answers to a number of less-than-burning questions-camels store fat, not water, in their humps; only five out of every 100,000 paper clips are used to clip papers; the first American president was in fact Peyton Randolph-that you nevertheless may be embarrassed to have completely wrong. Although some of the entries rely on technicality more than actual excavation of obscure fact (Honolulu is technically the world's largest city, despite the fact that 72% of its 2,127 square miles is underwater), these page-length entries prove entertaining and informative, perfect for trivia buffs and know-it-alls; it also makes a fine coffee table conversation piece and a handy resource for prepping clever cocktail party banter.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

“Trivia buffs and know-it-alls alike will exult to find so much repeatable wisdom gathered in one place.”
New York Times

The Book of General Ignorance won’t make you feel dumb. It’s really a call to be more curious.”
The Associated Press

“Ignorance may be bliss, but so is learning surprising information.”
Hartford Courant

“You, too, can banish social awdwardness by having its endless count of facts and factoids at the ready. Or you could just read it and keep what you learned to yourself. Betcha can’t.”
New York Daily News

“To impress friends with your cleverness, beg, borrow or buy John Lloyd and John Mitchinson’s The Book of General Ignorance, an extraordinary collection of 230 common misperceptions compiled for the BBC panel game QI (Quite Interesting).”
Financial Times

“This book would make even Edison feel small and silly, for it offers answers to questions you never thought to ask or had no need of asking as you already knew, or thought you knew, the answer.”
The Economist

“Trivia books, like any kind of mental or physical addiction, are both irresistible and unsatisfying. By the standards of the genre, this one has something approaching the force of revelation. Answering silly questions suddenly seems less important than taking the trouble to ask a few.”
—Melbourne Age

“Eye-watering, eyebrow-raising, terrific . . . moving slightly faster than your brain does, so that you haven’t quite absorbed the full import of one blissful item of trivial information before two or three more come along. Such fine and creative research genuinely deserves to be captured in print.”
Daily Mail

“This UK bestseller redefines ‘common knowledge’ with factoids that will inform and entertain (or at least liven up your next cocktail party).”
OK! Magazine

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By Donald Mitchell #1 HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
We all have a knee-jerk reaction to blurt out answers to questions about what's the biggest, tallest, most dangerous, etc. But like many of the better quiz shows, the answers often require thinking a little more broadly. "When did the last Ice Age end?" The answer is that we are still in it. But you could easily start to answer with when the last ice age that ended was over.

This reminded me of the oral exam I had to earn honors in college. The three professors started off by asking me which peace treaty ended the Hundred Years War. I thought and thought and couldn't think of one. I told them that answer and felt like a fool. It turned out there was no treaty. So beware of the way questions are phrased.

Despite my warning, the authors caught me several times jumping to conclusions about what the question meant, even though I knew the answer to what was intended. That gave me a good laugh at myself.

The better questions were ones that raised issues of contrast: "What's the largest thing a blue whale can swallow?" It's not as large as you might imagine.

I had fun with the book. It was a good time filler for a long, many-stop plane trip. It would also be a fun read for a few minutes before falling to sleep . . . probably giving you something interesting to think about as you doze off.

My only concern was that one of the answers didn't fit my experience . . . the one about which way the water swirls into the drain in the northern and southern hemispheres. I was actually on a ship once that kept going north and south of the equator, and the direction of the swirls shifted with our location relative to the equator. I'm not convinced this answer is right that it's the shape of the basin and drain that counts for the direction of the swirls.
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By Donald Mitchell #1 HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
We all have a knee-jerk reaction to blurt out answers to questions about what's the biggest, tallest, most dangerous, etc. But like many of the better quiz shows, the answers often require thinking a little more broadly. "When did the last Ice Age end?" The answer is that we are still in it. But you could easily start to answer with when the last ice age that ended was over.

This reminded me of the oral exam I had to earn honors in college. The three professors started off by asking me which peace treaty ended the Hundred Years War. I thought and thought and couldn't think of one. I told them that answer and felt like a fool. It turned out there was no treaty. So beware of the way questions are phrased.

Despite my warning, the authors caught me several times jumping to conclusions about what the question meant, even though I knew the answer to what was intended. That gave me a good laugh at myself.

The better questions were ones that raised issues of contrast: "What's the largest thing a blue whale can swallow?" It's not as large as you might imagine.

I had fun with the book. It was a good time filler for a long, many-stop plane trip. It would also be a fun read for a few minutes before falling to sleep . . . probably giving you something interesting to think about as you doze off.

My only concern was that one of the answers didn't fit my experience . . . the one about which way the water swirls into the drain in the northern and southern hemispheres. I was actually on a ship once that kept going north and south of the equator, and the direction of the swirls shifted with our location relative to the equator. I'm not convinced this answer is right that it's the shape of the basin and drain that counts for the direction of the swirls.
Read more ›
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4.0 out of 5 stars Loved it Nov. 21 2010
By RatUout
Format:Paperback
I think my title says it all. I loved this book and I like knowing that I'll always have it in my library. It got a lot of new interesting facts; some stuck some not. But that's what makes it worth its money I can always reread it when I'm bored.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  136 reviews
211 of 220 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I guess I thought I knew more than I did... Aug. 8 2007
By R S Cobblestone - Published on Amazon.com
"This book is for the people who know they don't know very much." This comment, in the introduction of The Book of General Ignorance, sets the stage and presents the authors' challenge. I started reading it with a "Who do they think they are fooling" attitude.

They made me a convert. This book only gets more interesting as you continue reading it.

Some of the knowledge nuggets aren't big secrets, and in fact read as "trick questions," like "What is the tallest mountain in the world?" The trick is, "tallest," not "highest." Got it? Mauna Kea in Hawaii, not Mt. Everest.

Then, what is the most dangerous animal that has ever lived? Answer? A mosquito, responsible, the authors say, for the deaths of about 45 billion humans. Of course (and they know this), one mosquito isn't responsible for these deaths, there are many species of mosquitos, and mosquitos really don't (directly) kill anybody.

Trick question again.

Then there were the questions that didn't hold any surprise at all: "What is the main ingredient of air?" Answer: nitrogen.

But it got more interesting. What man-made objects are visible from the moon? None. Many are visible from "space" (a mere 60 miles above the surface of the Earth), but the moon is too far away. What is the biggest thing that a blue whale can swallow? What are violin strings made of?

There are so many questions answered, that there is something here for everybody.

This is better than Trivial Pursuit, because of the explanations given. This should be an entertaining book on CD to listen to on a long trip, and can easily be turned into a game for adults and kids.

So I started reading it with a chip on my shoulder, and the authors made me a believer. Interesting, indeed. The book just kept getting better.

And my favorite factoid? What is the longest animal alive today?

Hint... it is not a blue whale.
77 of 79 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You may be more ignorant than you know . . . but don't worry, so is everyone else. Aug. 28 2007
By S. N. Falk - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
At last, the American release of what is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating books you could ever hope to delve into! Whereas most trivia books contain "facts" of dubious origin and little consequence, it's clear that the authors of this book have gone through great pains to dig out and verify the most interesting tidbits from the realms of history, nature, science, and culture. Let's go for a few examples (edited heavily for space; the book is far more detailed).

Q: How many words do Eskimos have for snow?
A: Actually, no more than four. Although it's often said that Eskimos have dozens or even hundreds of words for snow, there are at most only four root-words for it, and that's drawing from all Eskimo languages. (They do, however, have more than thirty words for demonstrative pronouns, where speakers of English only have four.)

Q: Who invented the telephone?
A: Contrary to what you've been taught, it was not the famous A. Graham Bell! Credit goes to Antonio Meucci, a brilliant but ailing Italian inventor, whose patent fell into the hands of Bell, a young Scottish engineer. Meucci died before his case against Bell could come to fruition.

There are hundreds of more questions to the end of fascinating and delighting the reader. However much you think you know, there will be mountains of information in here to surprise you--and that's quite the point. In the words of co-writer John Lloyd, "This book is for the people who know they don't know very much." As the authors hope you will come to understand, one's best hope in life is to recognize that one is generally ignorant, for it is simply impossible to know any but a sliver of the wealth of knowledge contained in and about the world. By admitting this, one is then motivated to ask questions that matter, for everything can be interesting when looked at in the right way . . . it's just that most people fail to look.

But it goes further than that. "The Book of General Ignorance" is just one piece of a cultural phenomenon that has its roots in Britain. It was originally written as a textual accompaniment to the hugely-popular television show "QI", which operates under the philosophy that curiosity--for its own sake--is worthwhile. The show is unlike anything broadcast on American screens, featuring panelists who try desperately to claw their way to the answers to questions they are posed (questions not unlike those appearing in the book). While they're rarely correct from the off, it's the mere delight in discovering the truth that ends up being, unfailingly, uproariously funny. The show's a joyful celebration of the fact that questioning the world around us need not be an impenetrably erudite or boring endeavor. [...]

In the meantime, pick up this book, and once you've been thoroughly impressed, buy it for your friends as well. It'd make a lovely gift for birthdays and the holiday season, assured to please scholar and dilettante alike. Recommended with cherries on top.
48 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very fun trivia book! Dec 9 2007
By Tim F. Martin - Published on Amazon.com
_The Book of General Ignorance_ by John Lloyd and John Mitchinson is a remarkably fun book to read, essentially a collection of questions followed by an essay answer for each one, not organized really into any significant way (though questions dealing with the same subject might follow one another).

This book would be fun for any lovers of trivia and deal often with questions that people think they might know the answer to but really don't. What's the tallest mountain in the world? Think you know right, Mount Everest, at 29,029 feet? Nope, it is Mauna Kea. Though it is a modest 13,799 above sea level, measured from its seabed base to its summit, it is a whopping 33,465 feet in height, almost three-quarters of a mile higher than Mount Everest. What's the driest place in the world? The Sahara right? It is dry alright, getting just one inch of rain a year but it is the third driest place on Earth. The driest in fact is Antarctica, as some areas of the continent have not seen rain for two million years. The second driest is the Atacama Desert in Chile, which averages 0.004 inch of rain a year, and some areas have not seen rain for four hundred years. You have been told that Eskimo is a rude term right, that the preferred term now is Inuit? True, Inuit is the preferred term in Canada, but Alaskan Eskimos are perfectly happy with the name as they "are emphatically not Inuit, a people who live mainly in northern Canada and parts of Greenland." In fact there are many types of Eskimo, of which the Inuit are just one type (the others include the Kalaallit of Greenland and the Yupiget and the Alutiit of Alaska). Think the first turkeys eaten by English-speaking peoples were the Pilgrims? Nope, Turkeys first reached Europe in the 1520s, brought from their native Mexico by Spain and sold throughout Europe by Turkish merchants, by 1585 becoming a Christmas tradition in England. Perhaps you have heard that chop suey is actually an American dish. Not so, according to this book, it is a local dish of southern Canton, where it is called tsap seui, which means "miscellaneous scraps" in Cantonese, brought over by early Chinese immigrants to California. How many states of matter? Three right, solid, liquid, and gas? Nope, more like fifteen, as the list includes such states as plasma, superfluid, degenerate matter, fermionic condensate, Bose-Einstein condensate, and strange matter.

Others questions and answers deal with just plain odd things that I didn't know. Croatia for instance gave the world the necktie, as Hravat is the Croation word for "Croat" and where the word cravat comes from. In the 17th century, Louis XIII of France kept a regiment of Croatian mercenaries during the Thirty Years War who as part of their uniform wore a wide, brightly colored neck cloth by which they became known, a style that was later much copied in Paris. St. Bernard dogs have never, ever carried barrels of brandy around their neck; the myth comes from an 1831 painting by a young English artist named Sir Edwin Landseer, who in his work _Alpine Mastiffs Reanimating a Distressed Traveler_ painted two St. Bernards, one with a miniature brandy barrel around its neck which he added "for interest." _Ursus arctos_ is not the scientific name for the polar bear, it is the name for the brown bear, as ursus is Latin for bear and arctos is Greek for bear. The Arctic, interestingly enough, is named after the bear, not the other way around, as it is "the region of the bear."

I have only one complaint about the book. Though it does include a helpful index, it lacks any mention of sources. Though not presented a serious scholarly work but merely a fun book to read, it might have nice to include some list of references.
36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, flawed, insightful, ignorant, pedantic, sanctimoniously smug and fascinating! Feb. 11 2008
By Rgh1066 - Published on Amazon.com
I was given a copy of this for my birthday two months ago, and have had it by my bedside ever since. It is by turns excellent, flawed, insightful, ignorant, pedantic, sanctimoniously smug and fascinating!

Once you get past Stephen Fry's cringeworthy introduction; not his best piece of work although admittedly Fry's less-than-best is still better than most, you are left with a series of questions to which the authors anticipate you will guess an answer that they gleefully reveal as "wrong". This has been a staple of pub quizzes and history teachers' trick questions through the ages of course, and consequently all the usual suspects are here; Mauna Kea gets a mention, so does Nelson's "Kismet", the Irishness of the Duke of Wellington, Richard ap Meryk (here as Richard Ameryk) and Antarctica (as the driest place on earth - which depends entirely on whether you regard frozen water as still water or not)

Occasionally, the pedantry rebounds on the authors. They observe there are more tigers in the USA than any other country, which is true because they are commonly seen in zoos and private menageries. But elsewhere they tell us that there are no buffalo in North America, which isn't true at all (I saw one earlier this month in a local safari park). Either zoos count or they don't. Pedantry, to be effective, has to be uniformly applied, And people who claim that coffee beans are not really beans do not understand how language works. A computer mouse isn't a real mouse either.

Occasionally, the book gets caught out by the changing times. At time of writing a chihuahua is back again as the world's smallest dog, and the authors admit that the number of states of matter is an evolving number. This doesn't make what they have to say any less interesting, but it does challenge the book's status as a repository of knowledge.

I think part of the problem is that for most of the book it is spun as a fact booklet. "Everything you think you know is wrong" proclaims the book's cover. In the afterword, the authors claim that actually they don't claim to be quite right: they only want to be interesting. This cranks the pressure up and raises questions about some of the inclusions. Does the revelation that air is mostly nitrogen really belong here? Even the authors recognise that every twelve-year-old knows that.

My favourite gripe is the first question in the book. The authors claim that Henry VIII's annulled marriages cannot be counted and so he had only two wives, not six. It's a great story, but it's flawed. The claim rests entirely on a strict rendering of the term "annulled" in the legal paradigm. At the time Henry was married to any of his six wives, no one would have claimed the lucky girl was not his queen. To do so, indeed, would have been very foolish.
29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lots of fun! Dec 5 2007
By Steven A. Peterson - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
This is a gimmick book--but a pleasant one at that. The front jacket matter includes the following comment that lays out the essence of this work: "Misconceptions, misunderstandings, and flawed facts finally get the heave-ho in this humorous, downright humiliating book of reeducation based on the phenomenal British best-seller." Or, as the author puts it (page xix): "This book is for the people who know they don't know very much. It contains hundreds of things that the average person doesn't know."

Let's get to the book, then. One nice way of giving the reader a sense of what's involved is simply to note some of the questions and answers. Enough to give a taste, not enough to spoil reading the book.

"What speed does light travel at?" (Pages 56-57) It depends. In a vaccum, 186,282 miles per second. In 2000, a team at Harvard University managed to stop light, shining it into a bec (not clear what that is!) of the element rubidium. "Where do most tigers live?" (Pages 66-67) In the United States! These are captive animals. In the wild, numbers are dropping dramatically. "Where do camels come from?" (Pages 93-94) North America. Here's a new one for me (among others): "What Edison invention do English speakers use every day?" (Page 131-132) According to the book (and this is one on me), the word "Hello" was an Edisonian invention.

"What rhymes with orange?" (Pages 208-209) Orange is a dread word for poets. According to this volume, there are two words--Blorenge and Gorringe, both of which are proper nouns.

So, there you are. A lot of fun. I don't pretend to know if all the answers to the questions posed are correct, but it's quite enjoyable to run through the questions and test your knowledge against the answers provided in the book.
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