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Schott's Original Miscellany

With lists of abstruse weights and arcane measures, classifications of clouds and classical columns, instructions on how to wrap a sari and tie a bow tie, taxonomies of cattle brands, and summaries of ''Curious Deaths of Some Burmese Kings,'' Schott's Original Miscellany (Bloomsbury, $14.95) is a charmingly addictive 158-page curiosity cabinet. ''It's not trivia,'' insists Ben Schott, its 29-year-old curator (below). ''The book has no biggest, tallest, longest, deepest, most-poisonous lists. If it doesn't amuse me, I don't put it in: That's the selection criterion.''

A few years ago, the London-based portrait photographer made a deluxe, 16-page Christmas card of delightfully random facts. ''People seemed to be massively enthusiastic,'' he says. ''More than I thought was rational.'' After added hours of labor in The British Library, Schott assembled a volume that became a No. 1 best-seller in the U.K. last spring. He spent another five months upping the Americana for the new U.S. edition. (Goodbye, supplier of bagpipes to the Queen; hello, singers of the national anthem at the Super Bowl!)

Schott plots follow-up collections on sports and food: ''I've got a discussion of space food, of what exactly humble pie is, of why the Romans developed a taste for dormouse, of what different foods taste like.'' Pardon? ''Armadillo tastes of rabbit, badger tastes like mutton, reindeer tastes like veal.'' Thankfully, there won't be recipes.

Originally posted Aug 08, 2003 Published in issue #722 Aug 08, 2003 Order article reprints
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