Monday, August 28, 2006

Book review (and it's not a comic)

I'm in a very bad mood and it's not because Elizabeth May won the Green Party leadership ... well, not entirely for that reason. Nope, I'm in a bad mood because I finally started to read "Now You Know: The Book of Answers" by Doug Lennox. For those who don't know me well, I have a bit of an obsession with knowing useless information (as my family may have learned when I did some searching into the causes bellybutton lint or the origins of "let them eat cake"... which is mistakenly attributed to Marie Antoinette). So when I saw this book (and the second volume) on sale a while back I thought it would be perfect. It's been sitting on my shelf for a while now but I needed a break from the "Physics of Superheroes" by James Kakalios (quantum physics and string theory can be a lot to absorb for someone who barely made it through first year physics) so I decided to give it a go. At about half way through I felt worse off then when I started.

The first thing that caught my eye was the answer to who is the woman in the Mona Lisa. I've spent a bit of time looking into Leonardo da Vinci and the Mona Lisa even before I read the Da Vinci Code (which also sent me on a fact finding mission... see the afore mentioned obsession) so I knew that currently the only answer to this question could only be a theory as it's never been proven. But there he goes saying it's Lisa Gherardini. Yes, most evidence points to this and it's the most popular theory but it would be extremely misleading to declare this as a statement of fact. Plus, he claims the original title of the painting was "La Gioconda" which is pretty much false. The painting was never given an "original title" as Leonardo never gave it one. It was given descriptive names until someone published their theory that it was a painting of Lisa Gherardini and at that point it was given the titles "Mona Lisa" and "La Gioconda".

So as I went on I started to question his other entries and just how thorough his "thorough research" was. Now I didn't have the time to look into all his facts so I decided to stick with ones that caught my eye. Some have proven to be true (the degree of their truth or correctness sometimes varies) while others are just theories (some of which have no evidence supporting them while others have evidence against them) and then there are the ones that are just plain wrong. Some tidbits:

- Chicago was referred to as the "Windy City" before the events he lists as the reason for the nickname. Though the events he cites may have cemented the name.

- Although there are many stories about "the real McCoy" referring to the boxer he mentions, you must also consider that the slogan "the real MacKay" was in use before the boxer. So the real origin may be tied into that and that's something you should mention in a book like this.

- Golf is not an acronym for "gentlemen only, ladies forbidden". I don't even want to dignify this one but the word "golf" and the game pre-date the Scottish social clubs he mentions and it seems to have come from the Dutch word for "club".

- Giving the finger predates the English/French battle he gives as the source (where the archers waved their fingers at the French who had threatened to cut them off). And the myth is actually that the 2 finger victory sign started there (not the finger) and that is generally regarded as false as well.

Now perhaps I'm just catching the only mistakes made in this book but I kinda doubt it given his willingness to present theories as fact. What irks me the most about all this is this book is labeled a "National Best-Seller" and has been followed up with several volumes. I only hope that his other volumes correct the mistakes made here or at least don't present false facts. Although I highly doubt it so there are a lot of people walking around thinking they know all this stuff and are completely oblivious to the fact that they may be wrong. So if you've read this book, you might want to reconsider believing anything you've read in it until you've confirmed it elsewhere. Otherwise, you'll be the one with egg on your face when you're proven wrong. And now you know.

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