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4.4 out of 5 stars140
4.4 out of 5 stars
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on 21 October 2007
This is exactly what you expect from the programme - it's amusing, interesting, witty and a lot of fun. How many American states are there? (No, it's not 50) and how many wives did Henry VIII have (no, it's not 6). If you're looking puzzled and scratching your head then you need to buy this. The only downside is that if you watch the programme avidly then you'll already know the answers to most of these questions, but equally you can look smug about it.

All in all, it's a great read, and a perfect book for the loo or the visitors bedside table. Buy a couple of copies just in case!
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on 18 October 2006
How many people, wanting to know "what it's all about" ambitiously pick up heavyweight volumes of science or history but can't make it past the first chapter? Probably quite a few, myself included. While knowing lots about a narrow area is very much encouraged these days, in schools and universities (ironically), that very narrowness makes it harder to connect your increasing knowledge together; to help get an 'integrated view' of the world; to get across the wonderful stuff you've found out in a way that others can relate to.

That's where this book really scores very highly: it delves deeply enough into the subject material - which is liberally scattered across as many disciplines as you'd find in any university curriculum (and some you won't) - but always manages to pull out into a wide-shot before the end, linking the main facts in each case to other juicy and tempting avenues of knowledge in related areas. It's like wandering through one of those ancient stately homes occupied by billionaire eccentrics who collect everything - it's organised enough to give you some cultural or chronological context, but there's also enough diversity, and also an uncannily hard-to-pin-down method to the madness. Right next to the shrunken heads section there are lightning generating machines and 19th Century robotic chess-players...

The writing style is simple uncomplicated, and never gets in the way of the material. You won't find exclamation marks or lame jokes, but you will notice a suffusion of - well, there's only one word for it - *passion* about the interestingness of the material. You realise that the authors just love this stuff, and you can't help but get pulled in yourself.

"A perfect Boxing Day Book", as I've heard it said...
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on 21 October 2006
Everyone enjoys the BBC2 programme QI. This book takes you through the journey of General Ignorance that will hopefully turn you from the puppy like Alan Davies into a budding Stephen Fry.

There are plenty of books around that attempt to teach you that what you think you know isn't quite true but this one is the definitave guide to knowledge.

So if you think America invented Baseball (It was the English), Thomas Crapper invented the flush toilet(Alfred Giblin), and Jaffa cakes (Apricot) are flavoured with orange jelly then this is the book for you.
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on 8 November 2007
If you've watched the tv show of Qi then some of these you will already know but the sheer quantity of things you thought you knew but didnt is astonishing!
This book will make you laugh and make you go hmm is that really true?
It actually explains the origins of the facts in question instead of just giving a correct answer and leaving it at that. A book that you can just pick up whenever you like and flick through, great for journeys and highly reccomended.
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VINE VOICEon 8 January 2008
This is a book associated with the QI programme presented by Stephen Fry. I very much enjoyed reading this but it's basically a regurgitation of the facts Fry reads out after they've had a laugh about each question in the program. It may add a bit more detail but I cannot imagine it's that much.

Get it if you haven't seen all the programs or want a record of what's been said.
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on 29 December 2007
If you aren't just a bit clever, don't get this book. It sounds insulting, but really, unless you have just enough knowledge to get you into trouble you probably won't get anything out of it.

This is jam-packed with fascinating well-known 'facts' that are then utterly exploded with the truth as we now know it. This book is fabulous for pulling the rug out from under boring know-it-alls and, if you happen to be one of those yourself (like me) for going over old ground and correcting the errors of your previous preachings. It is the literary equivalent of a bowl of M&M's, you can't just dip in for a single nibble, you will find yourself taking one nugget after another, completely unable to stop.

One warning - do not read this book on the toilet. You will find yourself inexorably turning the pages just to see the next little titbit of corrective wisdom and may suffer any number of uncomfortable complaints from sitting too long on a cold plastic seat.
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on 11 October 2006
Everywhere we look today, we get quick-fixes to knowing stuff. One glance at the bestseller shelves yields a stack of books telling us how-to, when-to and in what manner to change our wallpaper, wardrobes or fundamental life philosophy. The Book of General Ignorance offers something quite different. Leafing through, I certainly found our hundreds of things I didn't know . The scope is spectacular, ranging from details about the private parts of an earwig to the real way lemmings drop off this mortal coil via accounts of galactic activity. The book itself makes humble claims. As one of its authors, John Lloyd, puts it - it doesn't really scratch the surface of `the really interesting questions' like `What is light? Or love? Or laughter?' . But it does offer an answer to one of life's bigger questions: `What is interestingness'. Humane, funny, fascinating, this is a gift of a book.
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on 11 February 2008
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.
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on 16 May 2008
A really fantastic book. You'll soon start to realise everything you thought you knew is wrong, and you'll end up telling all your friends and relatives all your new-found knowledge!
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on 31 July 2008
This is a fun book to pick up and put down at leisure but it loses something for not being delivered by the dry tones of Stephen Fry. If you are an avid watcher of the series you will have heard most of these entries before but there are still some gems among them. Some of the explanations do go on and there seems to be a fascintaion with space that just doesn't excite me but there were a few chuckles along the way. At the end there is a disclaimer inviting readers to send in alternative answers or explanations which does dilute the whole thing a bit. Good for picking up trivia to delight your mates at the pub.
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