The problem with most factoids is that they aren’t true. No, people don’t swallow eight spiders per year, NASA didn’t spend millions of dollars developing a pen that worked in space while Russians just used pencils and, despite the initials, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” is not about LSD. But for every false rumor that spreads faster than gossip in a small town, there are plenty of other amazing but true stories that most people aren’t aware of.
Dan Lewis collects and shares these stories, one every morning, in his daily e-newsletter “Now I Know.” And, now, he’s put 100 of them into a print collection, “Now I Know: The Revealing Stories Behind the World’s Most Interesting Facts.”
There are historical topics such as hiding Nobel Prizes from the Nazis and mathematical stories such as people using probability to beat the odds in the lottery. There are scientific topics such as how one man’s blood saved millions and the just plain weird such as how a one-armed man was arrested for clapping. But all of the articles have a few things in common: They’re well-researched, short enough to read in a couple of minutes and never fail to inspire at least a modest, “Hm, that’s interesting.”
The issue with any book like this is justifying paying for something that the Internet provides for free. This is just a collection of articles that anyone can access via the “Now I Know” archives and perhaps that makes the book unnecessary. The short volume is ideal for bus rides since the articles are appropriately brief and interesting, or plane trips, where Internet access is spotty or non-existent. And, while smartphones are amazing, battery life is still an issue and reading on them pales in comparison to using an e-reader or print book, especially for extended periods of time.
Whether online, in an email inbox or in the print version, “Now I Know” is a consistent delight and well worth seeking out for fans of factoids. The book flies by and readers will struggle to resist the urge to read just one more before bed.
Correction: Because of a reporting error, an article that ran in the September 3 issue of The Daily Texan misstated the number of facts in “Now I Know: The Revealing Stories Behind the World’s Most Interesting Facts" that could also be found on the website. Half of the facts are original to the book.