The Book of General Ignorance

It’s something of a modern tradition for quirky little books to be published in the months before Christmas. Publishers are always hoping for another runaway success like Eats, Shoots and Leaves[1], Lynne Truss’s delightful rant on punctuation, which I actually bought before it was a big success, so there. Most of these books don’t sell in any great numbers, and are doomed to be sold off at reduced prices in January. Which is where this little item comes in.

It’s a tie-in with the TV quiz QI, which is chaired by Stephen Fry and usually features Alan Davies as the least successful contestant. QI stands for “Quite Interesting”, and oddly enough, it is. I managed to miss it for the first series or three, but caught a few of the last one, and I’ll definitely be watching again. It manages to be very silly and, well, quite interesting at the same time.

The whole QI thing (which includes a website and a bar, bookshop, cafe and members’ club in Oxford, was thought up by John Lloyd, who has been involved with such things as Not the Nine O’Clock News, Blackadder and Spitting Image, not to mention helping Douglas Adams with the first series of The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

The book consists of a series of common and not so common questions, and attempts to provide definitive answers to them. Lots of entertaining corrections of popular misconceptions, and a few things I knew already, all presented in a nicely erudite style. It’s quite easy to imagine Stephen Fry reading it out loud.

Read this and you’ll learn where most of the world’s tigers live[2], where the Canary Islands got their name[3], and much more. Great for dipping into and picking questions out at random, or just reading straight through. Not worth the original cover price of £12.99, but it’s half price in Waterstone’s, and available at reduced prices elsewhere.


[2] Possibly not where you might think
[3] OK, I knew that one