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Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  871 ratings  ·  56 reviews
For lovers of facts, students of popular culture, history buffs, and science enthusiasts, the fascinating stories behind 500 everyday items, expressions, and customs--from Kleenex to steak sauce, Barbie Dolls to honeymoons.
Paperback, 463 pages
Published October 17th 1989 by William Morrow Paperbacks (first published January 1st 1987)
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Mary JL
Aug 13, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A good blend of history and speculation. The author sorts by various criteria--origins of superstitions; holidays; customs; inventions and much more!

Many people might just dip into this type of book just looking for certain infomration--but I read it entirely and found the writing well well organized and fun.

The illustrations from older books reprinted here I found added much to my please. a picture is worth a thousa nd words, they say--and I always enjoy old phtographs and engravings.

Of course,
Apr 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
I will start by saying this is a tricky one not only to read but also to rate. Its a great book don't get me wrong - its just the classic dip in dip out type where you want to read it a bit at a time - all in one go and you may lose the will to read again. Its packed full of facts and interesting details just thats its problem - there are too many with too much information - hence why i struggle to choose the right rating for it. Some of the details are brilliant and i honestly was surprised oth ...more
Andreea Ratiu
Nov 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
I love finding out where do things and words come from and this book is an excellent source of both. Here are some examples:
- hamburgers originate from Russia
- the term 'lens' originates from the Italian lentils (the vegetable) - because they have the same shape
- pretzels originated in medieval Italy
My only con about this book is that is written by and American for Americans so I missed some of the references - for example there is a whole chapter about nursery rimes that I couldn't relate to.
I bought it. Ever wonder why their called 'bobby pins' or why do celebrate certain holidays, or where the kitchen stove idea came from? This book is the history behind the many, many things we use everyday. I found it really interesting. Check it out! ...more
Mar 19, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reference
Awesome book. Great for just a reference to some holiday, saying, tradition or whatever. Perfect for an inquisitive mind. I think it has anything and more you can possibly think to ask.
Jul 17, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, reviewed
I wonder about the authenticity of some entries, but it's undeniably a fun and interesting read. ...more
Aug 03, 2013 rated it liked it
Some interesting historical facts about items, rituals, celebrations and language we use in our lives today. I would have liked to read more detail on most of the information.
Sylvia Snowe
Apr 11, 2021 rated it did not like it
Shelves: history
I got to about page 70, and lost interest. Half the stuff Panati lists as "facts" are more like opinions of "folklorists" or citations from questionable history. And he gets stuff really wrong. For example, he says that "German settlers in Pennsylvania in the 1700s brought the idea of the Easter bunny from their homeland. Then, as the Germans spread through the US, the Easter bunny came with them." This is ridiculous. Germans have settled all over the US since the early 1700s, they didn't just s ...more
May 29, 2021 rated it it was ok
This is a secondhand book store find .It is 34 years old ,and many changes has happened since then .This book might have been interesting then ,but lacks humor ,sounds today written more to teenagers and children .
Of course today all this information can be googled and find even more interesting information than the book .I do not intend to read the book from cover to end ,but started with the kitchen and household products .If in the future feel like looking up another curiosity I might .
May 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
tells bout the origins/facts of holidays, superstitions, foods, customs ,the calendar (holidays), the bathroom (that one had me laughing), in/around the house, the kitchen, nursery ...... the list goes on.
i learned alot and had alot of laughs.
Bahadır Bozkuş
Nov 14, 2019 rated it liked it
Pretty loong, sometimes boring, sometimes entertaining, sometimes interesting, sometimes just makin you say 'Oh god I can't wait to this finish' ing, a cute, pretty trivia book mostly focused on Europe and America history. ...more
Lyle Blosser
Aug 06, 2019 rated it liked it
Intriguing and often surprising anecdotes - a fun read!
Aug 19, 2019 rated it it was ok
Perfectly serviceable bedtime reading. Nothing to go out of your way for, but I found a copy when helping to clean out my grandparents house, and it made for interesting reading in small doses.
Ahmet Uzar
Dec 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
Good one!
Dec 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A remarkable book filled with amazing details. It is the perfect bathroom reader, and I have read quite a few of those.
Mar 25, 2008 rated it really liked it
Still reading... its gives you the origins of such things as holidays, superstitions, traditions, things we use and say everyday. Very interesting. I learned I'm holding my New Years Celebration on the day that New Years actually used to be, which was originally March 25th, til Julius Ceaser changed it to January 1... April Fools is also has the same origin where the New Years celebration used to go on for a week until April 1 when the gift giving and such stopped. But when people resisted and k ...more
Aug 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I've been reading this book for years.
Little by little, night by night, reading a factoid here and there.

It's been my go-to 'i'm-just-about-to-fall-asleep-but-i-need-to-read-just-one-more-thing' book for years on end. This is not to mean that it's a boring, dull book in the least. It's just that my brain likes to devour facts right before it finally relaxes into sleep.

Someday when I make it on Jeopardy - it'll happen :) - I'll probably be able to thank this book for a lot of the answers I get r
Oct 18, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-ficton
I actually started reading it one day to see how far I could get but there's only so much useless information I can take; so I've mostly only used it as a reference guide when I actually want to know something. The sections I have read are pretty cool though, and truthfully once you know the information it's not that useless. And I enjoy letting people know that I know where the idea of nail polish originated. ...more
Apr 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I think this book is out of print now, but you can still get it, and you should. I've flipped through it so many times that my copy is falling apart. Want to know the origin of Christmas? of Little Red Riding Hood? of Toilets? Zippers? Makeup? Superstitions?...It has it all. I'm constantly amazing (or is it boring?) people with knowledge I got from this book. ...more
Feb 28, 2009 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: ANY age
Recommended to Gracee by: mom!
Shelves: own
This is one of those books that is always sitting on a table or on a bookshelf somewhere in my house. Right now it's on the kitchen table - I looked up the meaning of "ring 'round the rosey"
It's a great "I only have minutes to read something and don't want to get too involved" or if you have limited attention span ;) Lots of quirky "how it got started" stories. Fun read for any age
Amber the Human
Apr 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
Okay, you guys, I finally did it! It's a very long book, over 400 pages, and it's not like I need to be like oh, wait, I can't remember what the origin of Father's Day is, so I can't figure out the origin of ice cream! I love knowing more facts and be able to bust out "Actually ..." and then explain what I've learned! ...more
Laura Crawford
Aug 02, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: the curoius type
Shelves: reference
Ever wonder who invented toothpaste? It's in here. A reference book that will intrigue and disgust. I've read it so many times my copy is falling apart.

Oh, as to who invented toothpaste...the Egyptians...let's just say the chapter and find out why.
Lindsay Campbell
Aug 27, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: ALL
this book is out of print but you can still order it on amazon. please do so. this book is deeply etched in my psyche. it taught me so many of the useless and useful factoids that i know. it is the ultimate bathroom book. i love giving it as a gift.
Sep 16, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: the curious
Shelves: nonfiction, alpha
So fun to browse through this encyclopedia-like book. Where did zippers come from, anyway? Whoever thought up the whistling teakettle? Answers to these questions and many more can be found in this amazing book!
Aug 19, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-i-own
This book was very interesting. Granted, it had so many things to learn about, many I didn't really care. I skipped a majority of things, but read a lot as well. I recommend this book to any who are curious on how things were discovered, and why they are around. A good informational book! ...more
Nov 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
My boy toy loves these nerdy type books, so we've read a lot of the entries out loud to each other. It's pretty interesting, but sometimes more in detail than I care to read. Not the kind of book you just sit down and read cover to cover. ...more
Jan 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This was a fun book. Great for the reference shelf especially if you get those kids questions. Dad where did ____ come from? Who made the first potato chip Dad? Yep, a great book to keep you from saying 'I Don't Know'. It satisfies curiosities, puts to bed those nagging 'I wonders'. ...more
Jul 21, 2013 rated it it was ok
An interesting collection of different tidbits, however, I think it would be more interesting as a reference book or to refer only to those chapters or items that are of particular interest to prevent some of the monotony.
Nov 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The sheer volume of information in this book is amazing. My favorite section was about how various superstitions evolved. So interesting to see the arc of cultural and technological evolution over time. Definitely great for conversation starters and random useless knowledge to have on hand.
Mar 22, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: guide
I find this stuff so interesting...where did toilet paper come from? who invented pantyhose? the sandwich? curlers? different sayings? Hours of fun, I tell you!
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