Sunday, December 11, 2011

Mental_Floss: The Book: Only the Greatest Lists in the History of Listory edited by Ethan Trex, Will Pearson, and Mangesh Hattikudur

Mental_Floss: The Book: Only the Greatest Lists in the History of Listory
edited by Ethan Trex, Will Pearson, and Mangesh Hattikudur

Guys, I love lists. Not in the anal-retentive To-Do List way, though I sometimes make those out of necessity. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome often equals Colander Brain, wherein, for example, I will go into Target and buy 10 things I "need," but not actually what I originally came in to purchase (and then I need a nap). Lists are great for mental tidy-making, but I love making fun lists like, "Hybrid Animals with Funny Names" (Caccoon! Geep!) or my Alphabet Soup project of a few years ago. I also love random bits of trivia that would make me a decent pub quiz team member — By the way, did you know that Richard Simmons, Bill Cosby, and Henry David Thoreau all share the same birthday? (July 12, which also my birthday. Mark your calendars, of course.)

So hand me a book with the subtitle Only the Greatest Lists in the History of Listory, and I am all over that, annoying family members by punctuating all lulls in conversation with tidbits such as, "Salvador Dali wore a homemade scent made of fish glue and manure to help attract women." Delicious.

I tried telling my 2-year-old niece that Oscar the Grouch used to be orange, but she didn't believe me. Then again, she chooses not to believe most things I tell her.

Mental_Floss takes their similar love of assorted knowledge made orderly and operates both a magazine and website. The Book commemorates their first ten years of existence. They keep things amusing, but not at the expense of getting information across. This isn't exactly a showcase for the writers' supreme joke writing, but rather about making their work accessible. Anecdotal evidence shows that people are more likely to pay attention to an article when it is presented in list format. Just look at how many things Huffington Post turns into a list slide show in order to rake in the advertising dollars — I mean, don't you want to look at "7 Crazy Facts You Should Know About the Arctic?"

Keeping with the "10 Outstanding Years" theme, Mental_Floss: The Book divides into the following chapters:

- 10 Cheat Sheets For Impressing a Diplomat, President, Or Pope, (ex: "Four of the Largest, Oddest, and Most Useless State Projects in the World")

- 10 Lists That Should Come With a Lab Coat, (ex: "Eight Questions You Probably Need Answered Immediately")

- 10 Lists You Can Share With Your Kids (Or Your Inner Child), (ex: "Seven Things Disney Parks Have Banned")

- 10 Lists To Lighten The Mood at the E.R., (ex: "Three Defunct Diseases You Definitely Don't Have")

- 10 Sports Lists For People Who Can't Dunk, (ex: "Go Cornjerkers! 10 Unbelievable High School Mascots)

- 10 Food Lists To Make Your Mouth Water, (ex: "The Origins of Five Condiments")

- 10 Lists That Mean Business, (ex: "Strange Early Jobs of 13 Famous People")

- 10 Pop Culture Lists To Break Out On The Red Carpet, (ex: "Eight Celebrity Inventors Who Hold Patents")

- 10 Lists For People Who Can't Write Good, (ex: "10 'Q' Words That Aren't 'Q-U' Words")

- 10 Animal Lists That Don't Bite, (ex: "Three Super-Animals Keeping an Eye on Terror")

- 10 Lists To Read Before Naming Your Child, Company, or Alter-Ego, (ex: "Four Irritatingly Inaccurate Names")

- 10 Lists of Lemons, (ex: "Five Articles of Clothing That Caused Riots")

- 10 Lists of Lemonade, (ex: "Four Brilliant Scientific Screwups")

- 10 Lists That Didn't Fit Nicely Into Any Other Chapters, (ex: "Five Oddly Specific Museums Preserving Our History")
Also, did you know that "the original duty of a wedding's 'Best Man' was to serve as armed backup for the groom in case he had to resort to kidnapping his intended bride?" And that Cap'n Crunch's full is name is "Captain Horatio Magellan Crunch?"

This is what my family had to listen to while I read this book. They are remarkably indulgent, it's true. But who doesn't love knowledge‽ (That punctuation mark is called an "interrobang," and apparently my Open Office software doesn't know that's a word. Application: "A sentence ending with an interrobang asks a question in an excited manner, expresses excitement or disbelief in the form of a question, or asks a rhetorical question.")

Of course, one has to read Mental_Floss: The Book knowing that some of the information, while it may have been factually accurate at press time, might no longer apply. For example, the book states that "producing a single gram of antimatter costs about $62.5 trillion." A quick search reveals that the estimate was made by NASA scientists in 1999. Much has changed within the study of particle physics in the past 12+ years, and while I'm no expert, I would guess that the cost has changed as well.

It is helpful to remember that any "fact" that includes cost or superlatives like "The Tallest" or "The Bestselling" will change, and perhaps already have. Still, the number of reported and corroborated stories, while I have of course not checked them all, make me confident in the book's overall accuracy. One would hope, at least.

Of the facts that surprised me the most, one struck me as most needing verification: "Students at Brigham Young University need a doctor's note to grow a beard."

This isn't just some rumor concocted by people afraid of Mormons? Really? Yes, really. The school's own Honor Code site confirms it. Huh. Must be rough in this Hipsterific-Movember World.

If nothing else, Mental_Floss: The Book is excellent material for the trivia nerd in your life, and I'm sure I will be using the site's future lists to badger unsuspecting relatives and Facebook/Twitter friends. As in, "11 Examples of Perfect Strangers Fan Art." You're welcome, Internet!


Full disclosure: Harper sent me this book. I thank them for the gesture, and I will continue to be fair in my reviews.

This review is part of Pajiba’s Cannonball Read III, in which participants attempt to read and review 52 books over the course of one year. In order to make up for last year’s 51 books, I’m aiming for 53. The challenge ends December 31, 2011.

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