A common question about Douglas Adams' famous Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy is just why Adams chose the number 42 as the answer to life, the universe and everything. In a charming trivia book, author Peter Gill takes 50 pages or so to look into the story of the book and the author and another 250 to find occurrences of 42 in the worlds of sport, crime, science and a wide range of other fields.
Everyone will have their own personal favourite facts and figures from this excellent collection - my vote for the most interesting just about goes to the bit about the alumni of Chicago's Forty-Two Gang and former leader Sam Giancana's links to JFK and Fidel Castro. Intrigued? You should be...
There are several points at which Gill plays rather fast and loose with the number - notably when talking about cricket, with the quote `'The first law prevents the use of 42 fielders, or less specifically all numbers over eleven.'' Thanks to a bright and breezy writing style, he gets away with this - if he'd been more ruthless about cutting it down to actual 42's, we'd have lost out on learning about the Polynesian game of kirikiti so I can forgive him for it. Similarly, 4.2 and the football score 4-2 are considered fair game and when it's used as an excuse to inform us that Geoff Hurst unveiled a statue in Baku to Tofic Bahkramov, the Azerbaijani - NOT Russian! - linesman who gave the goal in that famous World Cup Final, that's fine by me. Especially since I've managed to get at least three pub quiz questions written from that fact.
While the majority of the book is equally likely to appeal to you whether you're a fanatical fan of the Hitchhiker's Guide or a total novice, the last 50 pages and the appendix `'The 42 explanations'' can be enjoyed by everyone but are likely to be the part which pushes this into `must-read' territory for fervent fans of Douglas Adams. We have here plenty on the author and the book, most notably the thank you letter he wrote to the author of the book which inspired him, the Hitchhiker's Guide to Europe, which is absolutely fascinating to read, and a list of possible explanations for the choice, my favourite of which I will resist spoiling for you (but it relates to a classic song featured in a Doris Day musical...)
This could easily just have been a book full of random news snippets and dodgy maths, but Gill manages to make it a little more than that. Chapters throughout attempt to group the 42's together by theme and there's a fair bit at the end filled with Adams' own reasons for choosing the famous number.
Being the 42 geek I am I was impressed with the number of references I wasn't previously aware of. What I wasn't so keen on was that quite a few were rather tenuous. There are a couple of "just over 42's and the like which break the rules! Gill also introduces a couple of sections based on pushing the number 42 into a given situation, the main example is his idea for an alternative decibel system based on units of 42.
The idea of 42-ana (I just made that up) is that you look for the presence of 42 in other things - not shoehorn it into places where it doesn't already exist. That's just an excuse to list something else which has nowt to do with the subject at hand.
Despite this complaint, I quite enjoyed the book. Even when this tactic is used the subject matter is usually interesting enough to be worth reading regardless, but I am a lover of all things trivial. It's not a book for everyone, not even for every Douglas Adams fan, but it's good bedside or bogside fodder.
I hope that doesn't come across as an insult to the author!
Let me first say that I'm a massive Douglas Adams fan and really wanted to like this book since the author was educated in Longridge from whence I also hail. Unfortunately, the long list of stuff that is linked to the number 42 in increasingly thin and fabricated ways (there are lots of 'almost', 'not far from' and 'nearly' 42s mentioned) gets tiresome and, as the author himself admits, seems to be a wikipedia trawl made print. This is a shame because the book is almost saved by the bit towards the end where the author goes through the story of the birth of hitchhikers and 42 in particular and this bit gets all of the two stars that are awarded. More of this would have been much more fun and more informative and earned a better review.
Nice try Peter but: 42 = the meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything. 42 = the perfect bust size for some men (probably Douglas Adams also) Ergo, the perfect natural bust for a man = the meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything. Looks to me like the Goddess of fertility is having a second coming!