Articles and Books

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There are so many great books on Useless Information out there. I have described my collection of books below. Many of these publications have been used in the preparation of these web pages and almost all are currently out of print.  

I must begin with the guy that started me with collecting works on trivia - the legendary Cecil Adams. Cecil has written five books (that I am aware of): The Straight Dope, More of the Straight Dope, Return of the Straight Dope, and The Straight Dope Tells All, and Triumph of the Straight Dope.  These highlight the best of his syndicated newspaper column. In the world of trivia, Cecil Adams is god and Cecil Adams knows all. He refers to his audience as the Teeming Millions. Unfortunately, one of my students stole the first three volumes, so I can't tell you any of the details except that every bookstore carries his books (check the reference section). The first volume is a classic, the second is almost a classic, and the third and fourth are a bit too brief. Check out the The Straight Dope web page for a forum to post and discuss

Next to Cecil, Charles Panati is a close second.  Without a doubt, his best work is Panati's Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things. You name it, Panati has described where it came from in this volume. Other volumes are Panati's Browser's Book of Beginnings, Panati's Extraordinary Endings of Practically Everything and Everybody (could he find a longer name?), Panati's Parade of Fads, Follies, and Manias, and Sacred Origins of Profound Things.

Panati's newest collection is titled Sexy Origins and Intimate Things: The Rites and Rituals of Straights, Gays, Bi's, Drags, Trans, Virgins, and Others (I guess that he could find a longer name!).  This last title is very well researched and takes a fascinating look at the history of our unmentionable world.  This is an excellent book that is hard to put down, but I should point out that the book is probably not ideal for the youthful reader (although they always seem to know more about sex than adults). 

David Feldman has written more trivia books than anyone else. In terms of sales, he is clearly the trivia king. Each book has lots of interesting answers, although I have never found them match the level of organization and intrigue found in any of Cecil Adams' or Charles Panati's volumes. Titles include When Do Fish Sleep?, Why Do Dogs Have Wet Noses?, Why Do Clocks Run Clockwise?, Who Put the Butter in Butterfly?, and Imponderables. These books are published by Harper and Row and can be found at any bookstore. Check around for closeouts and used volumes, as I have paid as little as two bucks for one of Feldman's books.

An excellent book on supermarket trivia is Can You Trust a Tomato in January?: The Hidden Life of Groceries and Other Secrets of the Supermarket Revealed at Last by Vince Staten. You'll never look at the supermarket in the same way after reading this one.  His book Do Pharmacists Sell Farms? is an incredible look inside the history of the pharmacy and the items that they sell.  He has also put together Did Monkeys Invent the Monkey Wrench? which is a great look at the history of hardware stores and tools.  All are fantastic volumes.

Two books by my former professor, Charles Cazeau, at SUNY Buffalo are both worth looking at. The first, Exploring the Unknown (with Stuart D. Scott, 1980, Plenum Press), is a fascinating look at all of the great mysteries of the world. UFO's, Stonehenge, Atlantis, Easter Island, Noah's Ark, and many others are explored from a non-biased scientific examination of the evidence. Science Trivia (1986, Plenum Press), is a compilation of Cazeau's fabulous "Let's Explore" column that appeared for several years in newspapers around the country.

Check out Thoughts for the Throne: The Ultimate Bathroom Book of Useless Information by Don Voorhees (1995, Carol Publishing). This really is a great book to read while sitting on the can - it makes for short, easy, interesting reading. I quickly recognized much of the information in this book as coming from Cecil Adams' collection of answers.


I must mention the Uncle John's Bathroom Reader series, published by the Bathroom Reader's Press.  All the readings in these books are one to two pages long, which makes for a lot of reading material to occupy your time while sitting on the porcelain prince. While they are not entirely trivia books, they are all pure enjoyment from cover to cover.  Be sure to check out the Bathroom Readers website.  My major complaint about this series is that no references are given and I have noticed occassional errors in some of the facts presented.

Another great book is The People's Almanac Presents The 20th Century by David Wallechinsky (1995, Little, Brown and Company).  The cover states that the book is "The definitive compendium of astonishing events, amazing people, and strange-but-true facts".  I couldn't try to describe this book in a better way.  At 800 plus pages with small print, this book is packed with amazing stories.  You probably won't read them all - you'll just read the parts that interest you.  There is something here for everyone.  This book was revised as The People's Almanac Presents the Twentieth Century : History With the Boring Parts Left Out (1999).

Lastly, one of my favorite books is Reader's Digest Facts & Fallacies: Stories of The Strange and Unusual (1988).  This book is a wonderful compendium of oddball stories.  It is very well researched and nicely presented.  It is currently out of print, so good luck in locating a copy.  I picked up my copy at a local used bookstore.

I have many, many, many other books in my collection.  Most are devoted to a single topic and are not collections of stories.  Others are just not worth mentioning...