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4.3 out of 5 stars
QI: The Book of the Dead
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52 of 53 people found the following review helpful
Following the success of the initial QI book and follow-ups such as the Book of Animal Facts, a plethora of hastily - written, badly produced "facts" books appeared on the market. Some of the facts in imitators books were questionable, many based on inaccurate website content.

Perhaps in recognition of this, The QI Book of The Dead has chapters, rather than chunks of info in alphabetical or other order as in previous books. The criteria for grouping people together are somewhat bizarre,as mentioned, but also interesting - as you'd expect. One supposed "fact" is debunked here. There are not as many people alive now as have ever lived. The dead outnumber us by nine to one. (So just why did we ever believe otherwise? Interesting!)

I also wonder if the proofreader read this over lunch; it was certainly done on an off day. No doubt those glitches will be ironed out in the paperback. It might be best to wait, if you can. But if you can't, another really interesting read awaits.
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60 of 63 people found the following review helpful
on 18 November 2009
I love Q.I. in all it's forms - the series, the books, the website - so the arrival of a new book was a cause of some celebration for me. This time around, the book is a series of potted biographies of noteworthy folk through the ages. For an added twist, they're summarised not by the times they lived in, or even alphabetically... the various figures are categorised according to things that they had in common. So, Freud, Hans Christian Andersen and Da Vinci all wind up in the same chapter because they had absent or bad fathers! It's quirky, but it works. Like the show, this is packed with 'well-I-never' moments, and proves to be a very addictive read. One criticism though - there are so many basic errors in the presentation, you can't help but feel it must've been thrown together in a rush. For example, in the first chapter alone, words are repeated unnecessarily in the same sentence, causing the reader to skid to a halt and re-read for fear of having missed the point. And poor old Hans Christian has his surname go from Andersen to Anderson, then back to Andersen, more than once on the same page! All right, this might be picky, but this is a chunky, reasonably expensive book - you'd hope it was at least proof-read once or twice.
All in all, good fun - and recommended for all fans of the series, or trivia buffs.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 17 December 2009
Did you know that Issac Newton was a member of parliament in his lifetime? Or that Hans Christian Anderson was terrified of naked women?

If you're a fan of QI, you probably know what this book's all about and will already be trawling the shops in search of a copy. However, you don't need to be a convert to all things Stephen Fry to enjoy this offering. The Book of the Dead provides the reader with mini-biographies of some of histories greatest figures (and some lesser known past marvels) with the only criteria for entry being the subject's interesting life.

Though the book has a couple of minor problems: there are a lot of proofing mistakes and the themes that link historical figures can sometimes be tenuous; it's well worth a read and full of fascinating information told in a humourous fashion. It's the type of thing that'll make a great Xmas present for someone or will be a light, fun travel read.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 6 February 2011
There are so many books that I pick up with high hopes only to put them down unfinished. The QI Book of the Dead is not one of them. John Lloyd and John Mitchinson know how to write, how to keep the reader captivated, how to breathe life into whatever subject they choose. It was only a matter of time then before I laid my hands on their biographies of a few dozen famous fab people like Freud, Franklin or Ford and another few dozen of those fairly foggy like Fordyce, Fernando Passoa or Francis Buckland.

Never shy of controversy, like they did with animals in their previous book, the authors here too seem to focus on the bits that school course books and sanitized biographies usually leave out: sex, sex and sex. You probably ken the sexual conquests of Casanova and Sophie Frederica Auguste (better known as Catherine the Great), but it's a fair bet your memory cogs won't instantly clink at the names of Cora Pearl or Colette. Neither will you suspect H.G Wells of living in an open marriage with numerous lovers and countless prostitutes well into his 70s. Among other people mentioned who clearly enjoyed having it off are Franklin, Genghis Khan, Emma Hamilton, Marie Bonaparte, and Jack Parsons.

A surprising number of people turns out to be bisexual (e.g. Byron, Andersen); homosexual (da Vinci, Newton); addicted to masturbation (Andersen, Dali); otherwise obsessed with sex (Freud, John Dee). Conversely, if someone didn't live and die a sex maniac the authors brand them sexually suppressed (Mary Kingsley, Florence Nightingale) or a lifelong virgin (Nikola Tesla, again Newton and Andersen among others). It's probably only appropriate to quote Kinsey on that: 'the only unnatural sex act is one which you cannot perform'. He should know, he tried them all apparently. Well, it this doesn't pique your interest, I don't know what will.

Fortunately for some life is not just about sex. So, you can read on those driven to food, to fame, to the other worlds, or to grand charlatanry. The life of Ignacz Trebitsch Lincoln, Liberal MP, Jewish, a Nazi spy and a Buddhist monk is an absolute find in the last category, but I'm sure you'll find more treasures like that in the book.

There are a few gripes with this book, as well.
First, the number of typos in the British hardcover. Someone on QI forum counted 48 of them. I haven't read the American edition of The Book of the Dead (Hardcover) (the one with a skeleton on the front cover), but it seems free of them, judging by reviews. Perhaps Faber didn't deserve all the thanks from the authors they got.
Second, the number of people who have ever lived is now estimated to be around 106 billion, not 90 billion. Also, stating that 'the earliest common ancestor of everyone living in Europe only lived about 600 years ago, and everyone alive on the planet today is related both to Confucius and Nefertiti' is just against common sense and science. These estimates are based on the mathematical calculations done by Joseph Chang (another possible source is Steve Olson's Mapping Human History: Genes, Race, and Our Common Origins) under the assumption that everybody has an equal chance of having sex with anyone else, which is not true. We share common DNA, but there's no way Confucius has his descendants among the lost tribes in the Amazon jungle for example. Genetic evidence points to our 'Adam and Eve' living in Africa at least 60,000 years ago. It really makes me wonder if the authors in the chase of curiosities and controversy ever doubt their findings.
Third, treating the visions and miracles surrounding St Cuthbert as factual.I'm sure with their faculty for words the writers could have come up with a description that separates plausible facts from impossible fiction.
Fourth, Feynman got Nobel prize in 1965, not in 1948 as the book purports. A fact easy to correct if somebody bothered to double check the dates. How many more similar mistakes are there?

Still, these are minor problems that shouldn't detract from the pleasure of reading this book. After all, as Stephen Fry said, it's 'dead good'.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 14 December 2009
What links Oliver Cromwell, Catherine de Medici, Rembrandt, Frida Kahlo and Madame Mao? Why, monkeys of course! Cromwell was kidnapped by one as a baby, all the others owned at least one simian companion. This is just one of the very many more-than-quite-interesting bits of trivia this book provides. In fact, so consistent were the "how interesting, I never knew that! I must tell someone right now" moments in this book that within half a dozen pages I had to stop mentally note-taking and simply enjoy the ride. I reckon these tidbits must average out to one or two a page, which in a book of over 400 pages, means trivia-lovers will be more than satisfied.

This book is extremely readable and the thematic approach to its subjects (each chapter containing mini-biographies of its subjects based on categories of poor parenting, aforementioned monkeys, fantasy lives or sexual behaviour, amongst others) means it is easy to skip back and forth between chapters as you like. The index and suggested reading are also laid out gloriously clearly - a nerdish thing to notice, but refreshing in such books. There is even a link to QI's 'Book of the Dead' forum where you can discuss any mistakes you've spotted or find out more about the book's sources.

One issue though - as the other reviewers have noticed, there are some glaring syntactical errors which really jar against the generally highly involving and well composed writing. Nonetheless QI is taking over from Schott's Miscellany as the source for fascinating, well written trivia and this book is a brilliant buy for anyone interested in the genre.
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on 18 April 2012
I purchased the QI Book of the Dead with high hopes- after all, it is a QI book, and I am very fond of the series and both the noticeably stouter and second books of general ignorance- and I wasn't disappointed. A couple of other reviewers have commented on proof-reading, but I must confess that I didn't notice any glaring errors. The organisation system is a little unusual- rather than structuring it around reasons for fame or even the time period in which they lived the chapters are organised under general themes such as "happy-go-lucky" or "absent fathers". If you're looking for a specific biography then this can be a little irritating, but if you're sitting down to read it cover to cover like I did then it prevents you being bored by a load of authors, followed by a load of inventors, etc. The only thing that really stops me from giving this book the full 5 stars is that I wasn't especially thrilled with the range of people included- it would've been nice if some more generally well-known characters were included, but having said that, I'd rather read about the more interesting aspects of the life of someone I've barely heard of than the less interesting facts about somebody I have.
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A remarkable book about dead people! This book contains biographies of famous people who have left 'interesting' and often noteworthy legacies. The categorisation of the content is neither by alphabetical order nor by historical era but by themes, for example - `There's Nothing Like a Bad Start in Life', `Driven', and `Is That All There Is?' All the big names are included, such as Marx, de Vinci, Freud, Genghis Khan, H.G. Wells, Cromwell, Bentham, and Henry Ford. Others are just as intriguing, John Dee, St. Cuthbert, Emma, Lady Hamilton, Tesla, Moll Cutpurse, and Count Cagliostro, and more besides. The authors have chosen to highlight the unusual and extraordinary stories for their subjects; this makes for absorbing and entertaining reading. My only criticism of the book is that almost all of the `famous' people discussed come from the UK, Europe and the USA; perhaps these regions are the key market for the book. If you seek a very readable book to occasionally dip into and reflect upon famous and infamous people from the past - and learn some astonishing stories too - this book will not disappoint you.
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on 4 November 2013
Excellent potted biographies of some famous and some obscure people, with the usual quirky, irreverent QI approach. One or two of the bios are, to say the least, a bit speculative in that very little is actually known about the character, for example St. Cuthbert (who?) but entertaining nonetheless. There are also a sprinkling of people who seem to have been included because their lives fitted into the book format rather than because they are interesting in their own right, hence the 4 stars.

The format, by the way, is to group people by common characteristics, for example a love of monkeys, rather than chronologically or alphabetically. Not a book to read from cover to cover, but to dip into, in my view and better than the QI books of odd facts and 'factoids', which can get a bit samey, especially if you have seen the QI programmes.

In summary, 99p well spent!
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on 1 August 2014
In one sense, this a triumph of style over content. If you really want to know about the people in it, you would read the books in the bibliography. But that is also the whole point of this book. It tells you about people you didn't realise you needed to know about. What it also does, because of the cunning way in which it is structured, is to make creative links between personalities who wouldn't necessarily be associated otherwise, and who knows what will come from that. The only reason this doesn't get five stars is because it is the start of finding out about some truly remarkable people, and not the whole journey. But to invoke an ancient cliche, in a journey of a thousand miles, are not the most important steps the first ones?
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 22 March 2014
A great book if you want to know more about some of the most interesting, bizarre, inspiring and creative people to have ever lived.
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