As with most things intangible, trivia is in the mind of the beholder. One man's trivia is another woman's vital or cherished detail. The Ultimate Book of Useless Information provides about 200 pages of factual tidbits, some interesting, some boring and plenty that are appropriately classified as utterly useless.
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Lead author Noel Botham is chairman and a founding member of The Useless Information Society, a British organization formed in 1995 that has chosen the squirrel as its mascot. This volume is the sequel to their bestselling and even more creatively named Book of Useless Information. The society's stated goal is to search the world for any and all trivial, pointless and mindless information, with the only requirement being that it is "totally bloody useless".
The book is divided into fifteen small chapters, including topics such as show business, science, religion, food, sex and sports. It starts strong with a very entertaining section on Hollywood, revealing plenty of hilarious facts about various characters, stars and the censors. Unfortunately, it begins fading quickly after that with a chapter about British royalty that, while it truly qualified as useless, was boring to this American reader. Even the sex chapter was dull. An additional poor choice is the inclusion of a few chapters of silly and embarrassing quotes from various public figures. Most of the good ones - Dan Quayle please take a bow - I have heard before and the rest are pretty lame and don't really fit the category of information.
In my opinion, the highest quality and most entertaining trivia lies in the realms of science, history and geography. My passion can occasionally become irksome to others, but the fact that the giant squid "has the largest eyes of any animal on earth" - while it may be both trivial and without much use - is still fascinating and important. Unfortunately, on multiple occasions it appears that the authors get it wrong, either by mistaking the facts or presenting the information in a misleading manner. Some of these errors may simply be faulty proofreading, but overall I sense a rather sloppy disregard for accuracy. The authors seem to feel that just because the information is useless, the exact details don't really matter. As a trivia aficionado I find this attitude offensive and it makes me suspicious that much of the information in the book that I can't confirm or refute based on my personal knowledge might also faulty.
If you really need to know Detective Colombo's first name, the origin of the name for sirloin or what the dead skin that flakes off your shoulders after a sunburn is called, this book has what you want, although you'll have to search for a while because there's no index included. But if you're a trivia fan looking for enlightening reading, look elsewhere. I did enjoy the book at times, but making the useless entertaining is an inherently difficult goal and unfortunately this seemingly half-hearted attempt falls short. While I can't recommend The Ultimate Book of Useless Information, it would make a good gift for the weird uncle who needs a new "reading" book for the lavatory.
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