BOOK REVIEWS: Why We Can't Get Schott of Facts; One Man's Fascination with Trivia and Facts Has Exploded into a Global Phenomenon
Byline: By HANNAH STEPHENSON
It seems we cannot get enough of lists, fascinating facts and nuggets of trivia that are easily digestible.
The ability to conjure up a factoid or two to amaze friends, while increasing your intellectual kudos, is something that author Ben Schott has managed to exploit with aplomb.
The 32-year-old eponymous author of three volumes of miscellany and an almanac has sold more than two million books in four years.
"I'm completely surprised at the success of the books," he says incredulously.
"We're launching the first American edition and the first German edition of the almanac. There's a Japanese version of the miscellanies and there's going to be a Korean version. When things like this happen, you think, 'How did this business get so big?' It's very strange."
While Schott's Original Mis-cellany is full of bits and pieces, odds and ends of fascinating information and trivia, his latest work, Schott's Almanac 2007, is a completely different type of book.
"The three miscellanies were different books from the almanac, which was never designed to be book four. They were fun, cheery, rather haphazard collections of ephemera, flotsam and jetsam that you learned at school but had probably forgotten, like cloud types and wine bottle sizes.
"The almanac is something completely different. It's a modern recreation of a traditional almanac. In some ways it's much more serious, dealing with some very serious ideas and some very frivolous ideas.
"We have blog entries of Britney but also a profile of the president of Iran and the new American language of detention and interrogation, and the Nobel Prize For Literature alongside the Bad Sex In Fiction award.
"So what the almanac is trying to do is to create a book of the year that tells the year in the way we actually live it. It's not only about shifts in politics. It's also about ephemeral things like the Oscars, the MTV music awards and the small things as well as the big things."
Among his favourite entries for Schott's Almanac 2007is the Oscar section, which not only tells you about the winners, but also who said what, the dresses that were worn and what celebrities received in their gift baskets.
"It's the Oscar night quotes which often tell you about the tone of the evening, if someone was political or sentimental. Then there was a huge story about the celebrity gift baskets, because the IRS decided they would be taxable benefits this year."
He says that it isn't particularly difficult to decide what to include because the appropriate information stands out.
"Some events are so significant that they just have to be in there, such as the UK threat levels - for the first time the security threat level has been made public. It shows an interesting shift in British society.
"Other stories you are just so astonished or amused by that they have to go in."
Research for his previous miscellanies was conducted mainly in the British Library, but Ben did most of his investigations for the almanac on the internet. …