Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Interesting Bits by Justin Pollard

I’m a trivia buff. I’m a history buff. And here is a book of historical trivia. For someone like me it’s practically pornographic.

History is something I find endlessly interesting. There are some who contrive to make history boring, or didactic, but you really have to work pathologically hard to achieve this. History is just so … full of things. It has narrative, though it takes a good storyteller, I mean, historical scholar, to draw that out.

The Interesting Bits is broadly organised, by which I mean there are sections with titles, but they really didn’t mean anything to me. There’s no narrative here, or even an attempt at one. The bits that are chosen are generally short, digestible items, conversation pieces if you like that sort of thing, and know people prepared to hear you out.

If your friends roll their eyes and change the subject when you try to tell them who Downing Street is named for, or how a French lawyer successfully defended a horde of rats in court, or even where the term ‘Nosy Parker’ came from, well, you might need to get some new friends.

The layout is such that if you are someone who reads only in short bursts, you’ll love it, since it gives you a tale you can read in a couple of minutes, then put the book down. If, like me, you are someone who reads quickly and in long sessions wherever possible, you can suffer from excessive knowledge download.

There is no narrative here, or even any attempt to create one. That is my biggest criticism of the book, and also the least fair. It didn’t set out to be a narrative, but that’s how I like my history.

There is a tendency for the bits to be either about Britain or America, and the European pieces are written mostly with a “look at those silly continentals!” tone that grates. These annoyances are quibbles rather than show-stoppers though. Overall, The Interesting Bits gives exactly what it says on the cover; little bits of history that are oh so interesting.


Taryn said...

Sounds cool, bu if its too high and mighty American I will have to strangle it!

Taryn said...

Also sounds like a great present for about half my family!!

DK said...

I think this book does fall into the category of "great gift idea"

DK said...

It's not high and mighy american, it's written from a UK standpoint, and that comes through really strongly in the tone - articles about the UK or US read very differently from those about europe.