Book Review: Everybody's Book of Facts

First posted in December, 2004

Everybody's Book of Facts,
compiled by F. L. Dunbar,

ND (ca. 1940).

I have a deep affection for lovely old hardbacks full of complete bullshit that was, fifty years or a hundred years or however long ago, thought to be FACT, watered down into digestible chunks for a popular audience. And this book is chock-full of that sort of goodness.

In the chapter Comparing the Sexes, under the heading When Maximum Weight is Reached:

Women tend to put on more fat than men. Consequently a man reaches his maximum weight at the age of 40, a woman hers at 50.
Hooray! I now have a reason to look forward to reaching fifty, because now I know that at that point I'll be able to eat anything and everything I want without gaining a pound. I will aim for being a size four by forty-nine in preparation for my days as a slim and gluttonous woman!

In the chapter Concerning the Human Body, under the heading Precocity That Peters Out, we have this unfortunate "fact:"
[...] in the race of life whose full span is some seventy years, the mental sprinter usually falls behind his slower-starting competitors. The child genius rarely stays the course, and before middle age is usually a mediocrity.

Among white peoples, however, the precocious child by no means always fades away into intellectual torpidity. But among coloured peoples, this is the general rule. The Australian aborigines, the Fantis and many other American tribes, the Cambodians and the Eskimos are often remarkably intelligent till they reach the age of fourteen. From puberty onwards there is a swift decline in intelligence. In this connexion it is of interest to note that the anthropoid apes, when young, are markedly more human in appearance and behaviour than they become in mature years.
That's right, it's called Everybody's Book of Facts.

Anyway, moving on, let us read a bit from the chapter War's Terrible Cost, under the heading Politeness in Warfare:
An incident typical of military etiquette in the 18th century took place at the battle of Fontenoy in Belgium, which was fought between the British and French in 1745. Of the two commanders of the opposing regiments of guards neither was willing to deprive the other of the honour of firing the first shot. Finally the Frenchman, being more eloquent, had his way, but his courtesy cost him dear, for he fell at the first British salvo.

The same high standard of politeness was maintained when the forces were encamped, it being customary to send champagne and other delicacies to the commander of a beleaguered fortress. With the advent of the unkempt generals of the French Revolution, however, all such refinements gave way to more rough-and-ready methods.
This book, sans introductory pages and index, contains 615 pages of amazing "facts." Some are illustrated for better understanding, because a picture is worth 1000 words. For example:

Homes and Habitations of Man:
Cave Dwellers, Lake Dwellings, Egyptian Dwelling House,
University of London, Woolworth Building of New York,
Carnarvon Castle.

Right. If those are my choices, then I'd like to live in the castle, please.

Please note:For a lovely photo essay of Hay-on-Wye, also known as the used book paradise of Wales, click here.