My rating: 4 of 5 stars
James Felton is one of those writers who don’t just call a spade a spade: they call it a fecking great shovel. And when I say ‘fecking’, that’s not the word he’s really using, obviously. It’s a close cousin. He uses it a lot. Combine this with the actual subject matter (which includes the behaviour of penguins which will convince you never to give a soft toy one to a child again) and you’ve got a book which really comes close to its title. This is not for the squeamish.
Of course, fans of Felton’s previous books (and I am one) know exactly what he’s like and love him for it. With titles like ’52 Times Britain Was a Bellend’ you know you’re not getting something flowing in academic prose. This is, frankly, boys’ toilet humour. Felton is coarse, gross and insulting. He’s rather wonderful.
Behind the jokes and rudeness, lies impressive research. His previous books stand up to scrutiny. I know this because there were occasional times I cried “that can’t be true!” and went to check for myself. I was wrong: it can and it was. This book is no different. With a range of topics – from the origins of chainsaws and breakfast cereal to debunking myths such as the death of Rasputin and what happens if you sneeze with your eyes open – Felton covers a ridiculous amount of the weird, wonderful and, honestly, just ridiculous. It is a smorgasbord of stuff to make you go “Ew!”.
I do have a criticism however. I’ve collected books like this ever since I was a young lad (I still have the first I bought called “What A Way To Go” on my shelves). From Heroic Failures to Darwin Awards and QI books galore, I collected, read and loved them all. But the death of Rasputin features in several of them and here is Felton debunking it. That’s nothing new.
I recall in the early 2000s the ‘facts’ about what it means when you see statues of horses standing on four, three or two legs. Supposedly this told us whether the rider died in battle or not. It was nonsense and eventually a trivia book debunked that. Yet, for a while, it was one of those “I didn’t know that” moments.
And that’s just what Felton’s book is like. I can’t help but wonder if, at some point in the future, many of these stories he tells here will prove to be false (I certainly hope so when it comes to the penguins. I really, really hope so). But that uncertainty does taint the enjoyment. His previous books on the British and the Sun newspaper are rooted in solid historical fact. You can look up any of our bellend moments for yourself and the pictures of the Sun’s front pages are easy to obtain. But this current material is more difficult to pin down. The sources Felton uses may well turn out to be spurious one day.
Nevertheless, I’m pretty certain most of it will hold up over time. After all, most of the content of those books I’ve collected over forty years still holds up too (it’s just disappointing when sometimes it doesn’t). And as such, I’m more than happy to share these tales with friends and family, shamelessly presenting it as though it was my own earnest discovery and feeling pretty certain no one is going to say “Wait a minute, penguins really don’t do that. And I should know because I just happen to have a Phd in Penguinology.” I kind of wish someone would, to be honest.
Penguinologists aside, its a cracking book; lots of fun and enough to intrigue and amaze anyone. Not for the squeamish and not for young children (ye gods, don’t make that mistake) but otherwise a perfect Christmas or birthday gift for anyone who wants to read about painful amputations, stupid deaths, weird science or a range of things about animals you didn’t want to know. Especially penguins.
Social Entrepreneur, educationalist, bestselling author and journalist, D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. Listen to his life story in interview with the BBC here.
His latest book is ‘Try not to Laugh’ and is a guide to memorising, revising and passing exams for students.
D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, he is available for one-to-one mentoring and runs a course on the psychology of writing.
Ken writes for a number of publications around the world. Past reviewer for Paste magazine, The Doughnut, E2D and United Airways, and currently reviews for Lancashire Life magazine and Northern Arts Review. His reviews have been read more than 2.2 million times.