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The Know It All

A.J. Jacobs

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Horatio Alger only turned to writing self-help books after being kicked out of a Massachusetts church for sexual misconduct with little boys.

Casanova ended his life as a librarian.

Nero was a wannabe musician as well as Roman Emperor. He did concert tours with an escort of 5000 soldiers whose second job was to applaud. C19 French theatres obliged to hire bands called claques (from French word to clap) to laugh, clap and shout encouragement.

Cleveland named after a surveyor, Moses Cleaveland, in 1796, but 50 years later they dropped the 'a' bc too long for signs and newspaper masthead.

Lightning first goes down from cloud to earth - this is called the leader - but the bit that we see, the bright flash, is the return stroke, going back up to the cloud.

LOOPHOLES: the whole basis of human culture. Bible says that men of the cloth may not take up the sword. So they took up the club. Monks were banned from eating meat on Fridays. So they classified baby rabbits as fish. Martin Van Butchell, whose wife left a spiteful will to repay him for his infidelities specifying that her fortune was to go to a cousin as soon as she was dead and buried. So of course he didn't bury her - had her embalmed and then exhibited her in his front room.

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Diderot's Encyclopedie published Paris 1751 caused an uproar. Written by literary rock stars of the day - people like Voltaire and Rousseau - it went out of its way to debunk many myths, particularly religious ones. It might have been banned completely had not the King of France got into a dinner table argument about gunpowder, and someone dug up a copy which proved the King right. After that he gave grudging approval.

Friedrich Engels - a successful businessman by day (inherited cotton factories in Manchester and Prussia), active member of upper middle classes (foxhunting and fencing), and by night wrote articles against the evils of capitalism. So, the ultimate limousine liberal, but without the money he sent Marx, the latter may never had been able to develop the Communist Manifesto, and history might have been a lot different.

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Author notices that he forgets bits of what he has read - "the information doesn't suddenly disappear ... it fades like the colour of a sofa in the sun. I'm left with hundreds of half facts, missing a detail here or a name there."

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Colonialism wasn't 100% evil. More like 96%. The British oppressed most of India for commercial and military benefits, but they also put an end to the custom of burning a man's widow alongside his corpse. Like a robber who fills up the ice trays while he steals your TV.

Old story of ruler who gathered his wise men to compile a book of advice to give to his son. They came back with 25 volumes, which princeling refused to read, and so they were commanded to condense. This happened multiple times until they were told to get it down to one sentence. So they came back with "This too shall pass."

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Daniel Fahrenheit invented the mercury thermometer, but then completely arbitrary way he decided on his scale. 30 was freezing point of water. Why not zero? Because he'd reserved that for the freezing point of an equal mix of ice and salt.

1927 Philo Farnsworth broadcast the first TV image in America: a dollar sign.

Einstein Museum has a letter he wrote to his wife trying to save his doomed marriage. "You will make sure that I get my 3 meals a day in my room. You are neither to expect intimacy nor to reproach me in any way."

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(Robert Ardrey)"We are risen apes, not fallen angels .... And so what should we wonder at? Our murders and massacres and missiles? ... Or our symphonies however seldom they are played; our peaceful acres, however frequently they may be converted into battlefields? .... The miracle of man is not how far he has sunk but how magnificently he has risen. We are known among the stars by our poems, not our corpses."

Phryne was a famous prostitute in ancient Greece. Made a lot of money, and a lot of enemies. Put on trial for blasphemy, she "tore her dress and exposed her bosom, which so moved the jury that they acquitted her."

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Famous GBS quote about marriage: "When two people are under the influence of the most violent, most insane, most delusive and most transient of all passions, they are required to swear that they will remain in that excited, exhausting and abnormal condition until death do them part." Author's grandfather used to pull out Bartlett's Familiar Quotations at every family gathering and read the quote aloud, giggling all the while. Then grandma tore out the page and the recitations stopped.

C19 theatres featured 'racing dramas', where live horses galloped on treadmills set in the stage floor.

Crystallised intelligence: the facts and skills you know. Fluid intelligence: the ability to mentally adapt to new situations and remain flexible when problem solving.

Luck: Nagasaki got second atomic bomb bc the original target, Kokura, was covered in cloud.

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