Ever find yourself in a situation where you have to talk to strangers? Not good at small talk? Want to feel more up to snuff watching the pundits on the news? Just like stuffing your head with bits and pieces of information that might be useful or interesting? Have I got a book for you! The Intelligent Conversationalist: 31 Cheat Sheets that will Show You How to Talk to Anyone About Anything, Anytime by Imogen Lloyd Webber has it all covered. Nearly 400 pages chock a block with info from language to math to religion to politics, history and more. Need a gloss on major religions of the world? Got it. Refresher on American history and presidents? Right there. Who were the Axis and Allied powers in World War II? Oh, yeah, them. And what’s up with the Electoral College, anyway?
Each cheat sheet begins with either a few paragraphs or pages on the subject or a handy grid with terms and explications of the terms and ends with how to argue the point covered, a “crisp fact” (a neat bit of trivia on the subject) and a “pivot” (a handy question or statement to move things away from the current discussion). Some cheat sheets have Red Flags to watch out for, like things that are just either way too controversial or way too well known. Nothing like a nice batch of eye rolls from your audience when you spout off with something that “everybody knows.” There’s a nice little section on British slang (the author’s a Brit, which helps explain Chapter 15, which consists entirely of a huge grid of the kings and queens of England since 1066, covering 27 pages. Here’s an entry on Edward II to show the sort of info (and writing style) you’ll find: “Qualifications—Son of Edward I. He was created the first Prince of Wales in 1301. Quirks—Edward II was deposed by his wife Isabella (Phillip IV of France’s daughter) and her amour Roger Mortimer. Edward II gave up his crown to Edward III. Edward II was later murdered at Berkeley Castle. Notable Feats/Fiascos—Into favorites, most famously Piers Gaveston and Hugh le Despenser. Edward II was inept. Cue the barons getting very irritated. He also was defeated by Scot Robert the Bruce in 1314 at Bannockburn, which did nothing for his popularity.”
For readers more interested in modern history, there’s a cheat sheet on Middle Eastern history, twenty-odd pages of info about the most unsettled part of the globe and how it got that way. The Pivot question on this section, by the way, is “Qatar won the bid to be the first Arab country to host the FIFA World Cup in 2020. Are you a soccer fan?” How’s that for a change of subject?
Feeling a little uninformed about culture? Have a gander at cheat sheets 27 (authors you need to know about), 28 (artists), and 29 (composers) while Chapter 30 gets you a smattering of theater information.
The writing is all most definitely in the snarky British humor vein, and the politics are noticeably left-leaning. If you like that, it’s a big winner. If not, maybe you can overlook that and just enjoy buffing up for your next trivia contest or become a couch champion watching Jeopardy.