2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars
A*, 10 Dec. 2010
My general level of ignorance is quite high and I was unaware of this book and its predecessor until recently. Now they're both on my list of perfect Christmas presents for a number of friends and family members.
This is a great book - well researched, well written, genuinely interesting, and funny enough to make me laugh out loud on the tube. The wonderfully light writing style manages to deliver a constant stream of information seemingly effortlessly, while the range of facts and histories on offer is a real treat. I've never felt so enthused about the chemical properties of water, the history of football, the origin of species and the molotov cocktail all in one day. This is not a dry list of clever facts. Every chapter has some particular factual nugget at its core, but they exist as a springboard for all manner of interesting sidelines. Typically a topic will also cover the origins of the word(s), and give a nod to the scientists, artists and thinkers involved before striking out on a fabulously unexpected tangent. One chapter starts with a look at the drinking habits of the world's animals and ends with a plot summary of the oldest surviving work of literature on earth, all in the space of a page.
The greatest strength of the book, in my opinion, is the evident enthusiasm of everybody involved in its compilation, from the industrious elves to the writers (John Lloyd and John Mitchinson) to Stephen Fry. Every time I dip into the book, I am struck by a sense of renewed enthusiasm about the world and all its little mysteries and curiosities. It feeds my inner geek. This book is like the kid in class who insists on asking 'why' all the time, and is happiest when the teacher has to admit that nobody really knows.