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The Second Book of General Ignorance
on 30 November 2010
This new offering is another piece of wry loveliness from the guys at QI (whose lunchtime chat is a fearsome thing to imagine). It's teeming with lots of genuinely interesting snippets, some of the more disgusting - I'll be honest - I wish I hadn't read, and some of which still make me giggle days after I've read them.
What it manages really well - surprisingly so in a book that's essentially, well, about facts - is to maintain a rip-rattling pace, even while shifting topic with such frequency. It's very easy, for example, to get sucked into a bit about, say, how elephants get drunk, and not emerge until you've been firmly put in your place about the effect cracking your knuckles really has (if you're thinking arthritis you're - surprise surprise - wrong). For me, it also achieves the rare feat of making scientific stuff interesting ... if only my biology teacher at school had used this as a textbook.
The writing is superb, striking a note somewhere between authoritative and gently mocking. One of my favourite bits is from the article on absinthe:
"The active ingredient in wormwood is thujone .... [it] can be dangerous in high doses and does have a mild psychoactive effect, but not at the 10 milligrams per litre concentration that most absinthe contains. Sage, tarragon and Vicks VapoRub all contain similar levels of thujone, but no one has yet linked them to depraved behaviour."
Brilliant. If that raised a giggle - even a slight one - you'll love this book.