When I was a kid, I devoured Frank Edwards' 1959 book of weird "true" stories, Stranger Than Science, and C.B. Colby's book of "hair raisers and incredible happenings," called Strangely Enough. The story about the Inuit village that mysteriously became a ghost town (with cooking fires still burning), and the one about the man who vanished on his front lawn in front of his wife and kids enthralled me and my friends.
Unfortunately, most of the stories weren't even "true." They were flat-out false, as I learned in recent years when I googled them.
A couple of months ago I received a review copy of Dan Lewis' Now I Know, which has 100 strange phenomena stories that are just as fun as Stranger than Science and Strangely Enough, with the bonus of being true. (UPDATE: It's on sale as a Kindle ebook for just $2.99)
The book is a compilation of Lewis' popular Now I Know newsletter, and contains stories about:
-The US military's $25 million plan to firebomb Japanese towns in WWII using flocks of bats with incendiary devices strapped on their backs.
-How mathematicians are beating the odds in state-run lotteries.
-The curious link between red hair, increased sensitivity to pain, and resistance to anesthesia.
-South Korea's irrational fear of electric fans.
-The 1911 theft of the Mona Lisa (which was not painted on canvas, "but on three pieces of wood roughly and inch and a half thick") from the Louvre.
-How a Hungarian chemist hid gold Nobel Prize medals from the Nazis by dissolving them in aqua regia (a mixture of nitric acid and hydrochloric acid), and then precipitated the gold out of solution when it was safe to do so.
-How Coca Cola gets its coca leaves, one of the ingredients used in its top secret syrup recipe.
-"Mr. Acid," the underground chemist who was making a kilogram of LSD every five weeks until he was imprisoned. (A single gram is enough for 10,000 trips)
Every story in the book is interesting, and Lewis includes a "bonus fact" at the end of each story which is a mini mind bender on its own.Buy Now I Know: The Revealing Stories Behind the World's Most Interesting Facts from Amazon
Mark Frauenfelder is the founder of Boing Boing and the editor-in-chief of MAKE and Cool Tools. Twitter: @frauenfelder. His new book is Maker Dad: Lunch Box Guitars, Antigravity Jars, and 22 Other Incredibly Cool Father-Daughter DIY Projects