The Interesting Bits

Link: The Amazon Review is here, should you wish to vote on the ‘helpfulness’ of this review.

On the Amazon Vine programme, I picked Justin Pollard’s The Interesting Bits: The History You Might Have Missed to read and to review.

I spent almost a whole day and then some, reading the book. As I was going to review it, I also made notes which made the whole thing rather time-consuming.

At just short of 300 pages, this is not a small book, but its being organised into 20 chapters makes it manageable.

Written by one of the writers of QI, a quirky quiz programme on the BBC hosted by the polymath Stephen Fry, the book is a treasure trove of historical tid-bits and trivia. It is no encyclopaedia but inside one finds gems such as Oliver Cromwell’s Welsh ancestry, the origins of the word ‘bunkum’, the straw that broke the camel’s back and led to the Indian war of independence of 1857 (the Indian Mutiny if you prefer the British historical framing) and the country name that is an acronym (Paksstan if you are keen; go ahead, work it out!).

Each chapter begins with a quote that captures the essence of the chapter. For instance, Chapter 6 ‘What’s in a name?’ cites R S Surtees, in “Three things I never lend – my ‘oss, my wife, and my name‘. The questions addressed all relate to the theme so the said chapter addresses the curiosities behind Gordon Bennett, the Bob in Bob’s Uncle, the original Tommy, Uncle Sam and nosy Parker.

The style of writing is accessible and although intentionally funny, does not appear laboured. The book – as far as I could see – is remarkably free of typographical and grammatical errors. The parental rating within and between chapters may vary. My original intent was to hand over my 1st edition copy to my 8-year old godson. However having read it, I am inclined to wait for 2-3 years so that I do not have to field any tricky questions from him yet.

This is a book that needn’t be read in a sequence. In fact it is best enjoyed by randomly opening a page and reading whatever questions are contained on that page, as I did. Rather like a tin of mixed biscuits – some plain digestives, some cream cookies, some jam-centred tarts, where the best way to enjoy is to dip randomly into the tin, pick one out and relish it.

After all, it is about “the history you might have missed”.

Star rating: 4 out of 5

Usefulness note: The book would make a good Christmas present for a 10-12 year old with a curious bent of mind and a nose for trivia.