031: Mental Floss’s Forbidden Knowledge

by Gerard

031: Pearson, Will, Mangesh Hattikudur, & Elizabeth Hunt, eds. mental_floss presents Forbidden Knowledge: A Wickedly Smart Guide to History’s Naughtiest Bits. New York: HarperCollins, 2005. 294 pp. ISBN 0-06-078475-X.

Dewey Construction:

  • 000: Computer Science, Knowledge, and General Works
  • 030: Encyclopedias and books of facts
  • 031: General encyclopedic works in American English

There’s one at every get together—some guy or gal who can tell you exactly how Catherine the Great died, can rattle off obscure Polynesian gods, or (right when you’re giving a toast) explain the origins of toasting. I like that person because they’ve devoted the time and energy into reading the source material, committing it to memory, and painlessly transmitting to me. Sometimes, I’m that person. After reading all the books I have, there’s a lot of arcane facts rolling around my head. But today, the good folks from mental_floss have done our work for us.

Forbidden Knowledge is a wonderful book of lists ostensibly arranged by a peculiar system. The book, trying to be as salacious as possible, organizes its lists into categories relating to the seven deadly sins. There’s a section on lust, one on envy, one on gluttony, and so on. It’s fun, but some lists are a bit of a stretch (such as the list of religious “Diets”, or conventions, in the gluttony section). All in all, I picked up some extra party trivia. Here are seven of my favorites (one from each section):

  • Pride: When booked for a performance, the Village People request to only be paid in cash. (“7 Ridiculous Contract Riders of Pampered Celebrities”)
  • Greed: Elmyr de Hory’s forged painting were so good that a) art experts were fooled and b) forgeries of his forgeries popped up on the market (“The 6 Greatest Art Heists and Scams of All Time”)
  • Lust: Filmmaker Michael Moore once set to become a priest, but left the seminary because his beloved Detroit Tigers made it to the World Series and the school forbade him from watching the games. (“5 Divinity School Dropouts”)
  • Envy: Contrary to popular belief, lemmings do not leap off cliffs willy-nilly. That myth was perpetuated by the Disney production White Wilderness where producers rounded a bunch up and forced them off precipices. (“6 Well-Spread Fabrications”)
  • Gluttony: French writer Honore de Balzac was one of the few people in history to die of caffeine poisoning, after repeatedly drinking more than 50 cups of strong Turkish coffee a day. (“4 Deaths of Famous People Caused by Overindulgence in Drugs, Drink, or Dessert”)
  • Wrath: The bar fight scene in The Spoilers featuring John Wayne took 10 days to shoot and involved 30 experienced stuntmen and acrobats. (“3 Historical Bar Brawls”)
  • Sloth: The Fulsom Library at New York’s Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute sinks about an inch every year because the original engineers didn’t it was supposed to be a library and they didn’t account for the eventual weight of all the books. (“5 Lazily Designed Landmarks”)