As I have mentioned in previous columns, I’m a bit of a trivia nut, so I was happy to see The Trivia Lover’s Guide to the World: Geography for the Lost and Found by Gary Fuller arrive at the library. I was particularly pleased because I don’t know a lot of geography and the book fills in a lot of gaps in a pretty interesting fashion.
Mr. Fuller taught at the University of Hawaii and then began lecturing on cruise ships, so he’s well trained in both the facts and making them entertaining. The book contains just 150 trivia questions, but they are framed by lots of explanation and background so that the book is truly informative as well as entertaining. The answer is highlighted within the text with bold font, so if you just want to find the answer, it’s easy to do so but most of the fun lies within all that explanation and context.
The book is divided into forty-six chapters, such as “Places Aren’t Always Where You Think They Should Be” which addresses a single question: “What large Brazilian city is due south of Chicago, Illinois?” Kind of a trick question, really, just to lead into the explanation of the chapter’s title. The answer, believe it or not, is “none.” Turns out, there’s no part of South America due south of Chicago. It was a surprise to me, and I’m glad he includes maps to prove various points, because I would have had a hard time believing it if I hadn’t seen the map.
Other chapters include “Why Old Maps Look Funny,” “Geography of Sports,” “Oceans and Seas,” “Bridges,” “Rivers,” “Geography and Religion,” and “Maps Fool Us Again!” So, it’s a very wide-ranging coverage of geography broken into interesting tidbits. As I said, I was not well-schooled in geography, and know a good deal less history than I should, too! For example, in the chapter “Continental Tidbits,” I learned that Paraguay’s war against Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay in the 1860’s killed at least 50% of Paraguay’s population, maybe as much as 80%! There were fewer than thirty thousand men alive in the country by the end of the war. Pretty shocking, and pretty shocking that I never even knew there was such a war considering the casualties. Similarly appalling is that, as I learned in the chapter “Oceans and Seas,” the Aral Sea (which used to be one of the four largest lakes on the planet) is now one-tenth its former size. Soviet irrigation projects nearly destroyed it, but (as I learned doing a little research) Kazakhstan has been working on helping it recover by building a dam which has caused a recovery of 79 feet of depth and a bit of surface. There’s still hope for the poor Aral Sea.
In “The North,” there’s a lot of interesting information on the Vikings. I have seen pictures of Viking ships, but never really noticed that either end can be the bow. The Vikings built them that way specifically so that they could make a fast escape once they were done pillaging and plundering. The ships were beached to invade, then they simply heaved them back into the water and headed back out to sea without having to turn the boat around. Pretty clever, those Vikings.
Summing up, if you just want trivia questions and answers, you can quickly find those in the book, but you can also read it through (or at least the parts that interest you particularly) to gain a lot of knowledge pretty painlessly. Well-written, engaging, very informative and highly recommended.