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The QI Book of the Dead

(The Quite Interesting Ignorant Books #4)

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  1,574 ratings  ·  175 reviews
Following their Herculean - or is it Sisyphean? - efforts to save the living from ignorance, the two wittiest Johns in the English language turn their attention to the dead.

As the authors themselves say, "The first thing that strikes you about the dead is just how many of them there are." Helpfully, Lloyd and Mitchinson have employed a simple - but ruthless - criterion for
Hardcover, 435 pages
Published November 1st 2009 by Faber & Faber
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Average rating 3.92  · 
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 ·  1,574 ratings  ·  175 reviews

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i have a very small brain. well, maybe it is regular-sized, but it doesn't hold a lot of information. which is i think why my book reviews of late have been so dull - i am reading more quickly than i can review, and by the time i am getting
James Hartley
Aug 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Found this on the shelves in a hotel I was staying at and picked it up out of curiosity. It´s a selection of biographies of interesting dead people - hence the title - organised into chapters such as "unhappy childhoods" "what comes next" etc. I read it cover to cover in two days and it fell into my suitcase to keep as a reference book. If you think you´d be interested in concise, erudite biographies of Freud, Newton, Pessoa, Genghis Khan, Catherine the Great, Kinsey, Tallulah Bankhead, Lady Ham ...more
Oct 30, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
At its best, this book introduced me to fascinating figures I knew nothing about - Tesla for example has to be one of history's most underrated individuals - he was brilliant, quirky and I can't wait to read more about him. At its worst though, you feel like you are reading the same 5 page biography over and over - grew up impoverished, father died young, achieved success or fame, had weird sexual habits, died penniless. The authors seem very influenced by Freud - he's covered here too - and I g ...more
Feb 21, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
There's a cute statistical argument for predicting when the End of Days will occur, it goes something like this. Suppose you reach into my pocket and pull out some balls. Oi, no giggling, this is serious maths. I've got a number of balls in my pocket, and the balls are numbered 1, 2, 3, etc. up to the number of balls. If I have ten balls they're numbered one to ten, if I have a thousand balls they're numbered one to a thousand, if I have a billion balls then I have big pockets.

I don't tell you h
Dane Cobain
Oct 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
I should preface this review by pointing out that this was the book that I started my 24-hour Dyslexia Action charity readathon with – for the first two and a half hours, I was finishing this off. It certainly isn’t a book that you’d want to read over and over again, nor a book that you could sit down and whizz through in one sitting, unless you were trying to raise money for charity by trying to read for 24 hours straight.

That said, it is a reasonably long read, but try not to be fooled by the
Jan 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Stephen Fry calls this book “dead good” according to the cover text. And he’s right. It’s weird, odd, intriguing, absorbing and deathly good. It’s also a perfect reminder, to fiction readers like me, that biographies can be entertaining reads. It’s the sort of book where you’ll laugh quietly, then insist on telling some vital detail to whoever’s sitting nearby, then you’ll read on, and read aloud, and no one will wonder why. It’s full of strange and fascinating details. It’s classified and colle ...more
If you are looking for something that is incredibly in-depth & neatly organized, then you should probably look elsewhere. If you want something that would be great to read at 10-15 seconds at a time then you'll like this read. It's great for the trivia buffs out there who want something quick to read while they're waiting for an appointment, killing a few minutes, or... otherwise indisposed.

The Book of the Dead collects information on various famous, infamous, & obscure people in neat little bi
Nicholas Whyte
Sep 16, 2017 rated it liked it

From the makers of the quiz show QI, a collection of biographies of famous people, more or less tied together by themed chapters, very much going for the gosh-wow trivia, none of it all that memorable to be honest.
Sep 07, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
was this well researched? no idea.

was the style of some chapters sometimes tabloid-like? yeah.

was i entertained by the entire book? absolutely.
Louisa Robertson
Nov 23, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: lou-reads-2017
Interesting read about famous, infamous and little known people who have in some way contributed or changed the way we live today. Now I’ll know the references made in the Big Bang Theory 😂
Sep 19, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Out of the ninety billion humans that lived and died on this planet, the authors narrowed it down to just shy of 70 who whether famous or not, lived some of the most compelling lives you would ever want to read about. This was a fun book that allowed me to learn more about figures that though familiar with, I didn't know all that much about. Issac Newton, Ada Lovelace, Nikola Tesla, Tallulah Bankhead, and General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, are just some of the notable historical figures that I ...more
Koen Crolla
Feb 17, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: history
What connects this book to QI is the people involved (John Lloyd is a producer for the show, and John Mitchinson one of the researchers) and the incredible shoddiness of the research. The form doesn't bear much resemblance; it's just a series of white-washed, shallow biographical vignettes weakly tied together with per-chapter themes. To call this the work of Wikipedia historians would be insulting to Wikipedia; the Johns at best only skimmed the one or two sources they claim to have used for ea ...more
Feb 01, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Lloyd and Mitchison's book about famous dead people can be a little random. The authors' groupings can be a tad . . . whimsical, shall we say. I understand a chapter about famous people whose fathers were deadbeats. I can also get with a chapter about those rare famous people who are happy. But a chapter about famous people who owned monkeys? That left me scratching my head a bit.

However, that having been said, I enjoyed this book immensely. It's chock full of wonderfully trivial tidbits about s
Oct 10, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting read that YES I will be keeping on my shelves and grateful that it’s already in the hardback book format! History is fun but reading about the odd behaviors, quirks, and weirdness of famous dead people just makes it all the more fun and obviously memorable! Did you know that Catherine De Medici drilled a hole in her husband’s bedroom floor so she could spy on him and his lover to get “practical tips”?! CRAZY!
the second QI book i've read. while the first was just a bunch of random (yet quite interesting) facts, this is a who's who of random (yet quite interesting) dead people. even if you haven't heard of a lot of the people listed in this book, their life stories are often quite eye-opening, fascinating, illuminating, intriguing, and of course, interesting. :P ...more
Very interesting book about many people I was already familiar with, and many others I was not. Love Tesla's reaction to Voltaire's writings: "I learned, to my dismay, that there were close on one hundred large volumes in small print which that monster had written while drinking seventy-two cups of of black coffee per diem." ...more
Dec 08, 2009 rated it liked it
An enjoyable but necessarily cursory look at the lives, influences and legacy of over 30 notable and notorious people. Great to dip into, but to find anything in-depth you will need to progress to reading one of the full biographies (handily listed in a useful appendix).
An interesting book about a range of historical figures this wasn't as funny or fascinating as the previous QI books. Some of the biographies were a bit dry and slowed down the book.

Overall if you're a fan of the show or trivia books in general it's good for a read.
What a great selection of wonderful, eccentric and great individuals are celebrated in this book. Among the long famous are many more obscure but fascinating characters who richly deserve to have their names raised from the obscurity into which they have fallen.
Frank Dahai
Jan 17, 2010 rated it really liked it
Deathly. Fun.
Nov 28, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was so good, and fun to read! So many interesting facts and peices of info that you DON'T read about in the History books. I loved it! Man... people are WHACKED! ...more
Dane Cobain
May 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I should preface this review by pointing out that this was the book that I started my 24-hour Dyslexia Action charity readathon with – for the first two and a half hours, I was finishing this off. It certainly isn’t a book that you’d want to read over and over again, nor a book that you could sit down and whizz through in one sitting, unless you were trying to raise money for charity by trying to read for 24 hours straight.

That said, it is a reasonably long read, but try not to be fooled by the
Jul 28, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I both love and am slightly frustrated by books like this. The former because it depicts some fascinating lives of people I know little about and the latter because well……they’re snapshots. After 2 or 3 pages of reading about Marie Bonaparte taking up psychoanalysis and an incident where:

“a man did flash her, she would walk up to him, give him her card, and say, 'Put that away, I’m not interested! But please come and see me tomorrow, I would like to talk to you' .”

You can’t help but want to k
Sevket Akyildiz
Sep 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
A remarkable book about dead people! This book contains biographies of famous people who have left 'interesting' and often noteworthy legacies. The categorisation of the content is neither by alphabetical order nor by historical era but by themes, for example - `There's Nothing Like a Bad Start in Life', `Driven', and `Is That All There Is?' All the big names are included, such as Marx, de Vinci, Freud, Genghis Khan, H.G. Wells, Cromwell, Bentham, and Henry Ford. Others are just as intriguing, J ...more
Miglia Miyo
Oct 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
The QI folk never fail to deliver insights that astonish, delight, and despair. This book differs from other QI affiliated texts in that it has an overall theme (accomplished deceased humans), themed chapters and within those, passages on relevant individuals. At least, they should be relevant. The ties between theme and subject got increasingly tentative and while still enthralling, I did lose some of the fervor I had for consuming the book. Small gripe. The less entertaining sections were grea ...more
Mar 03, 2018 rated it did not like it
I found this book difficult to read. It's a series of random facts about random notable people, most of whom I'd heard of before. I learnt lots of facts about them, but as they weren't particularly well linked and thematically there was little to link them together, it was difficult to sit down and finish.

I think the only way it works is as a "toilet book", to be read in short chunks, as reading a series of dispirate (but somewhat repetitive) short biographies gets tiring.
Suzanne Fournier
Oct 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
Short pieces about interesting lives organized by unusual categories. Funny and interesting though rated 4/5 versus 5/5 for some non-inclusive / racist language.

I had hoped there would be a few interesting lives of people who were never well known or famous, but there are several I hadn't heard of. The (wonderful) problem with a book like this, is that with almost every piece I want to read more about the person they talk about, and my to read list grows exponentially again!
Apr 02, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This very entertaining book about the lives of the famous, the odd, and the forgotten is well worth your time, especially as a summer read. The biographies are short, gossipy, and witty. Who would have known Catherine de Medici bought pubic hair back into fashion. In addition, it is a way to learn about all the folk you may have thought you should investigate but devouring 200 to 400 pages just seemed impossible. Here you get it all in an afternoon or before falling to sleep. Read it!
This is a book about dead people. Some are famous. Some are not. Some SHOULD be famous but aren't. The stories are grouped together by various categories, such as people who should have died rich but were penniless, or people who remained happy and positive even when experiencing some awful things. Some of the stories were a bit dry, but overall it was a fun read! ...more
Jan 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: lovers of biographies
Shelves: excellent, biography
A book for dipping into, rather than reading cover to cover in one go...hence the fact that it has taken years to finish this!

I really enjoyed reading about the lives of the greats and not so greats. Humans are interesting!
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John Hardress Wilfred Lloyd CBE is a British comedy writer and television producer. Lloyd was Trinity College, Cambridge, where he befriended and later shared a flat with Douglas Adams. He worked as a radio producer at the BBC 1974–1978 and created The News Quiz, The News Huddlines, To The Manor Born (with Peter Spence) and Quote... Unquote (with Nigel Rees). He wrote Hordes of the Things with And ...more

Other books in the series

The Quite Interesting Ignorant Books (5 books)
  • The Book of General Ignorance
  • The Second Book of General Ignorance: Everything You Think You Know Is (Still) Wrong
  • The Book of Animal Ignorance: Everything You Think You Know Is Wrong
  • QI: The Third Book of General Ignorance (Qi: Book of General Ignorance)

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