Book Review: The QI book of the Dead by John Lloyd

This was one of three QI books I received as a Christmas present a few years ago. QI is the hit BBC TV show about interesting facts and this is the third book released to accompany the series. In typical QI fashion it is about “Quite Interesting” facts about people from history – hence, the Book of the Dead, it is about dead people – famous and not so famous (though on reflection most of those who are not most definitely should be).

There are 72 subjects of the book in total ranging from the obscure to the not so obscure. They are grouped into themes – for example those who had a bad start in life (comparing the very different lives for example of Leonardo Da Vinci and Salvador Dali) up to those who made a tremendous impact on our lives, and most ironically, those who became famous only after they died. For those who were famous, you’ll learn stuff you never knew before – stuff deemed not important to their characters or stuff a little too embarrassing to be made public knowledge.

It is broken down into mini essays, mini biographies if you like and because of that it’s not really the sort of book you can or really should read cover to cover – rather dip in and out as the fancy takes you. I took several months to read it, grabbing it from time to time to read a couple more on each theme. This idea also presents a major problem of the book – you can’t really get your teeth into it. It’s incredibly brief and in some cases, just when you really feel you are starting to learn something about somebody (Nikola Tesla for example), it goes on to somebody else. So much is lost because it tries to cram too many people into too short a book. It could have been “12 essays on important yet obscure people” and that would have made it a fascinating collection – or even “stuff you didn’t know about very famous people”.

If bite size chunks of biography or snippets about the more obscure people or equally obscure aspects of the lives of famous and interesting people is your sort of thing then you should find this “Quite Interesting”. If you enjoy the QI gameshow, then this should make a welcome addition to your book shelf and as a topic reference for the dinner party. To me this simply feels compressed, a little too much like an infodump.

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