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The Facts and Figures that Turn Our World Upside Down

edited by Tom Standage

Pub Date: Nov. 27th, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-61039-993-7
Publisher: PublicAffairs

Lucid answers to a wide variety of topical questions.

Standage (Go Figure: Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know, 2016, etc.), deputy editor of the Economist, gathers posts from that magazine’s blogs, conveying facts, charts, tables, and theories in pithy responses to more than 100 quirky and often genuinely perplexing questions. Organized into 10 sections, the posts focus on global habits (why the exorcism business is booming in France, for example); love, sex, and marriage (attitudes to same-sex relationships around the world); food and drink (how wine glasses have gotten bigger over the years); science and health (what people want at the end of life); technology (what do robots do all day?); games (why tennis players grunt); language (how the letters of the alphabet got their names); holidays (why Easter moves around so much); and, not surprisingly, economics (does longevity always increase with national wealth?). Some of the answers are surprising, others self-evident. Why are Chinese children born in the year of the dragon more successful? Those born in the dragon years “are thought to be destined for success,” so “parents believe in them,” making success “a self-fulfilling prophecy.” Why does Boko Haram prefer female suicide bombers? Shock value. Why are yurts going out of style in Mongolia? Mongolians, it seems, “are heeding the siren song of modern living.” What’s the easiest way to get rich in America? Be born to extremely rich parents. Many responses distill solid research and convey interesting information, such as the complex genome of wheat and the causes and consequences of Swedes’ predilection to overpay taxes. As to the question about tennis players’ grunts, it seems that “the speed of their serves and ground-strokes increased by 4-5% when they groaned,” most likely caused by “the extra tension created in the athlete’s core muscles by the grunt.”

A lively compendium of fun and facts.