My favorite lists from “The Book of Lists”

David Leonhardt, editor of the The Upshot at The New York Times, recently wrote a defense of lists. Here is the post’s upshot:

As easy as it may be to mock listicles, they’re really no different from traditional articles, quotations, photographs, charts or statistics. They’re an extremely useful tool of expression that can be used well or used poorly.

Leonhardt cites the Ten Commandments, the Bill of Rights and Martin Luther’s 95 Theses as examples of effective lists. As an advocate of alternative story forms, I agree. And I’d add one more: “The Book of Lists.”

BookOfListsI encountered the book in the late 1970s when it was being passed around my elementary school. Its popularity there may have been connected to its chapter on sex. I was certainly intrigued to read about that subject, but I consumed the entire book. The list format allowed me to learn a great deal about a host of topics: history, sports, nature, language, etc.

After reading Leonhardt’s post, I decided to revisit “The Book of Lists.” (Yes, I still have a copy.) Although it was published in 1977, the book holds up pretty well. It has its shortcomings, of course. “8 Important Libel Cases” doesn’t include Times v. Sullivan. “Plan 9 From Outer Space” isn’t listed among “The 10 Worst Films of All Time.”

But the bulk of the book has aged well, and I enjoyed my reunion with it. “The Book of Lists” is still a fun and informative read, and it cleverly concludes with “The Lord Thy God’s 10 Commandments.”

So here are my “6 Lists From ‘The Book of Lists’ From 1977 That Caught My Eye In 2015.” Each of these would work well in this era of digital media:

  • 8 Cases Of Spontaneous Combustion
  • 7 Remarkable Messages In A Bottle
  • Norris McWhirter’s 12 Best Reference Books In The World
  • 8 Remarkable Escapes From Devil’s Island
  • Dr. Demento’s 10 Worst Song Titles of All Time
  • 15 Semordnilap Palindromes

One Comment

  1. Pleased to be reminded of one of my all-time favorite books, along with all the other Wallechinsky/Wallace works like People’s Almanac, Complete Book of the Olympics, and the sequels of the Book of Lists. I still have mine, too! I agree with your observation about learning from lists. I find myself telling my kids many facts that I remembered from this book and these lists.

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