The raison d'ĂȘtre of this blog is to review quality books, music, photography and other content that is seldom brought to our attention by the mainstream media.

The title EV+1 is photographic jargon for Exposure Value plus 1: increasing exposure by one stop from the metered value. Photographers use exposure compensation in order to obtain a correct exposure, when the light meter's averaged reading would be incorrect. Like a photographer allowing an extra stop of light to reach the film, I hope to shed a little light on a few under-appreciated gems.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

John Lloyd and John Mitchinson: The QI Book of the Dead

Squeezing 60 mini-biographies into about 400 pages, The QI Book of the Dead is written in a very readable, Brysonesque tone; the brevity of the biographies makes them perfect for idle moments.

The Dead, ranging from saints and geniuses (Florence Nightingale, Nikola Tesla) to scoundrels (Titus Oates), are thematically arranged in chapters with titles such as: 'Nothing Like a Bad Start in Life', 'Driven', 'The Monkey-keepers' and 'Grin and Bear It'.

The authors' delight in eccentricity left me with the impression that we humans are a very strange bunch indeed: Catherine de' Medici, for example, refused to give up trying to conceive, 'downing large draughts of mule's urine, wearing stags' antlers and dressings of cow dung.' And Frank Buckland had an unlikely passion for zoophagy (the eating of unusual animals – which had the serious purpose of discovering alternative, high-yielding food sources). He took to 'making pies from rhinos ('like very tough beef'), frying earwigs ('horribly bitter'), stewing the head of a porpoise ('like broiled lamp wick') and consuming the chops from a panther that had been buried for several days ('not very good').'

This is not a mere compendium of the absurd, however: I learnt about figures as diverse as Genghis Khan, Ada Lovelace, Oliver Cromwell, St Cuthbert and many more; and will be returning to it to reacquaint myself with its characters from time to time.

The only bum note is found on the book's final page. In noting that, in spite of their bad starts, bad habits, cruelty or mistakes, The Dead had all made a difference, it adds: 'they did it by making something of themselves. And so can you.' I felt that the book had grown one sentence too long.

Also available in softback.

Copyright © Richard Smallfield 2011

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