03 August, 2013

A World of Curiosities by John Oldale [Stanley, Central City Library]

“Never wrestle with a strong man nor bring a rich man to court.”

This Latvian proverb is probably an appropriate way to open a review of this book – a tour de force through trivia and facts on assorted aspects of nearly every nation on earth. From Somali litigation practices (which include poetry!), to Finnish fairy tales and Chinese cuisine, this is a real treat for trivia buffs.

The author – a scientist-slash-lawyer and generalist par excellence – speaks five languages and has visited over 90 countries. He writes in an engaging and warm style, with his punchy prose suiting the subjects well. These range from science (Darwin's finches, immortal jellyfish), to geography, politics and culture. One of the highlights was India, with everything from the eating practices of the Jain religion to why lying on a bed of nails isn’t as bad as it might seem…

Graphics illuminate every page, and give this tome an addictive quality. Bite-sized pieces of knowledge will pique your interest in any country you might (or might not) want to know about. I liked the coverage – even the very new (South Sudan, Kosovo) or the obscure (Liechtenstein) are included. There are larger sections for giants such as China and the United States, though even the tiny Faroe Islands get a page. The New Zealand section was refreshingly accurate and interesting, aside from the obligatory/pointless factoid about sheep.

So if you want to find out which head of state earns the most, how democratic countries with “democratic” in their name actually are, or the one surprising thing Borat got right about Kazakhstan… look no further.

Title: A World of Curiosities
Author: John Oldale
ISBN: 9780452297838
Published: 2012
Publisher: Plume

 - Stanley, Central City Library

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