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For trivia connoisseurs, The World’s Greatest Book of Useless Information is required reading.


Your life will never hinge on knowing that the loudest sound that could be made in the year 1600 came from a pipe organ or that best-selling author John Grisham is a distant cousin of former president Bill Clinton. But that’s exactly the point. Such factoids are pop-culture junk food -- tasty but empty -- and they are collected to delightful effect in the new book titled The World’s Greatest Book of Useless Information: If You Thought You Knew All the Things You Didn’t Need to Know -- Think Again (Perigee Trade, $13).

“Our goal with the book is possibly as useless as the book itself: to inspire gasps of surprise and that general ‘gee, I never knew that’ feeling,” says the book’s dry-witted editor, Jeanette Shaw. “We have Sir Philip Sidney’s dogma in mind -- to instruct and delight -- and we hope our readers are just that, but not necessarily mentally improved.”

The insatiable appetite for such brain candy has inspired several Useless Information editions (this latest installment makes four), all penned by award-winning journalist Noel Botham and his peers at the England-based Useless Information Society. Together, the books, which the New York Times deemed “brisk and groovy,” have sold 500,000 copies.

The current edition of Useless Information is a treasure trove of non sequiturs, minutiae, the ridiculous, and the sublime -- a cabinet of curiosities and offbeat data. Did you know, for example, that the average raindrop falls at 15 miles per hour? Or that the average adult eyeball weighs one ounce? Or that the six bears in Disney’s Adventures of the Gummi Bears are named Gruffi, Cubbi, Tummi, Zummi, Sunni, and Grammi?

“This stuff is great for trivia buffs or for cocktail parties, and it’s a good way to while away the hours on a plane ride or a long car trip,” Shaw says.

Botham -- who is best known for writing the book The Murder of Princess Diana, which was later turned into a Lifetime TV movie -- is the chairman of the Useless Information Society, a makeshift league of extraordinary gentlemen that counts, according to Shaw, “well-known journalists, playwrights, and other literary figures from the UK” among its members. This not-so-secret society meets monthly for fine dining, and each member receives two minutes at the end of the meal to present a useless bit of trivia. “Eventually, they had amassed such a wealth of information,” Shaw explains, “that consolidating it into book form to be shared with the public was a given.”

As editor of the books, Shaw takes all the tidbits -- which members glean from newspaper articles, Internet postings, TV shows, books, movies, etc. -- and arranges them in an engaging manner. So far, so good. In addition to the just-released World’s Greatest Book of Useless Information, Perigee will publish The Essential Book of Useless Information in November. And the hits will likely keep on coming because, as Shaw reminds us, “There is no end to the appetite we have for information that is utterly useless. For some reason, our brains are always starving for the kind of trivia that will have no meaning to your everyday life -- unless you are a professional Monopoly player, if such a person exists, who would find it extremely helpful to know that the most-landed-on squares in Monopoly are New York Avenue, Illinois Avenue, B&B Railroad, and Reading Railroad. If that helps someone, then we’ve utterly failed.”