The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

January 14, 2013

Linda Cannon: Trivia book full of fun details

By Linda Cannon
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — 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 an interesting fashion.

Fuller taught at the University of Hawaii, then began lecturing on cruise ships, so he's well trained in both the facts and making them entertaining. The book contains only 150 trivia questions, but they are framed by explanation and background so that the book is truly informative as well as entertaining.

Answers are highlighted in the text in 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 the explanation and context.

The book is divided into 46 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!" The wide-ranging geography coverage is 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 1860s killed at least 50 percent of Paraguay's population and maybe as much as 80 percent.

There were fewer than 30,000 men alive in the country by the end of the war. Pretty shocking that I never knew of such a war, considering the high number of casualties.

Similarly appalling, as I learned in the chapter "Oceans and Seas," is that the Aral Sea, which used to be one of the four largest lakes on the planet, is now one-tenth of its former size.

Soviet irrigation projects nearly destroyed it, but after a little research I learned that Kazakhstan has been working to help 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 specifically to be able make fast escapes once they were done pillaging and plundering. The ships were beached during invasions, then the vikings simply heaved them back into the water and headed back out to sea without having to turn the boat around. Pretty clever, those vikings.

To sum up: If you just want trivia questions and answers, you can quickly find those in the book. But you can also read it to gain a lot of knowledge pretty painlessly. It's well-written, engaging, informative and highly recommended.

Linda Cannon is a collection development and circulation librarian for the Joplin Public Library.