Within these pages are contained 3000 interesting, unusual, and amazing bits of information presented in almost 100 different categories, all assembled by oen of the world’s outstanding authors.
There are facts about the stars—from astronomy to show business; about the times—from ancient to modern; and about mathematics, physics, chemistry, food, kings, queens, and the foibles of men, high-born and low.
Did you know that—New York City still requires that hitching posts be located in front of City Hall so that reporters can tie their horses…
Or that—a mosquito has 47 teeth…
And that—Honey is used as a center for golf balls—and in antifreeze mixtuers…
And that—there are 2,997 more facts to be found in Isaac Asimov’s Book of Facts?
I don’t like this book very much.
The main problem is that it’s “by” Asimov only by the greatest stretch of the imagination. What happened was that on August 30, 1977, Asimov was approached by one Jerome Agel, “an entrepreneur who managed books for busy people who did not want to do all the work involved but who did not mind putting their names on as author.” He suggested the idea for Isaac Asimov’s Book of Facts, which was to be a thickish collection of trivia culled by other people from various sources (including Asimov’s own books, of course). According to Asimov (In Joy Still Felt, p. 787), “I said that I would not consent to be listed as author of a book I did not prepare, but if the ‘fantastic facts’ were sent to me and if I were allowed to accept, rewrite, and reject—and add some of my own—then I would be willing to have the book appear as ‘edited by Isaac Asimov.’”
In fact, Asimov didn’t even write the introduction to this beast, as it obvious from its shortness and the bizarre writing: “I’ve always been slightly drunk with facts,...Perhaps you, too, are ‘turned on’ by learning that: Karl Marx thought communism would not catch on in Russia...The Nobel Prize winner Ivan Petrovich Pavlov said, ‘Learn, compare, collect the facts.’ Well, Ivan, I’ve been up to my sideburns in them.”
(When I first saw the book, I assumed that the “by Isaac Asimov” on the cover meant something, and so I bought it. I was horrified when I saw what I’d stuck myself with, and assumed this was yet another instance where “by Isaac Asimov“ meant something to the publisher other than the fact that Isaac Asimov wrote the book. I was astonished when I read in In Joy Still Felt that Asimov really did count it as his own book, although at least it meant I had the consolation of knowing that I hadn’t spent my $6.95 + tax in vain.)
OK, so granted that this is a volume Asimov slipped into his book count by being generous to himself—something he’s been known to do in other circumstances, so we must forgive him with a sigh. (Actually, in Opus 300 Asimov states that one-fifth the book is by him, so it’s about the equivalent of a sixty or seventy page book, perhaps. I guess he could count it. I still loathe the introduction, though.) Is the book any good?
No, not really. It’s a book of trivia, five or six short paragraphs to a page. It’s a slow read, since there’s no narrative flow. The facts are disconnected, and the frequent, sudden transitions are jarring.
All right then. What about as a reference book? Again, no good. The thing is organized by dozens of short little topics with cute names (“Better to Give,” “Fine Feathered Friends”)—but there’s no index! How the heck is one expected to look up a particular person, place, or event? Granted, you can guess which of the main topics it would be found under and read up to 20 pages or so to find what you‘re looking for, but an index would be so much nicer.
Basically, this is a “toilet book”—something to sit down with for the odd minute or so to entertain one’s brain while one’s body is otherwise occupied. As such, it’s fine—but that really isn’t much of a recommendation.
The book suggests hither and yon that Isaac Asimov’s Book of Facts, Volume Two is on its way. One is everlastingly grateful that volume two never appeared. (Still, the book did reproduce itself by spawning off two little hard-back volumes for youngsters called Would You Believe? and More Would You Believe? I do own the latter, but thankfully not even Asimov could bring himself to count either of these two as his own.)