Few reviewers have such a magpie eye for the delicious detail as the reviewers in the Sunday Times Culture section, who this week were on full alert.
If you were not exposed to that particular section or are unable to scale the paywall, these are some of the trivia-tastic highlights.
From The Collector of Lives, Giorgio Vasari and the Invention of Art, by Ingrid Rowland and Noah Charney, Norton, £23.99
From this rehabilitation of a modest 16th century Florentine painter, a giant of neither pigment nor self-promotion, we learn that “It was Vasari who first used the term renaissance (rebirth) to describe the artistic and intellectual flowering that started in the 14th century… he established the idea of the superstar artist and that painting, sculpture and architecture were noble arts rather than crafts.”
And when not relabelling history, that he suffered from eczema, and it was said that when sharing a bed with a fellow artist he once scratched himself so “hard in his sleep that he drew blood, except that when he was roughly shaken awake he found it was his poor bedmate he had been scratching.”
From Islander, A Journey Around our Archipelago, by Patrick Barkham, Granta £20
“Ynys Enlli (an island) off the coast of Wales, has long attracted Christians because of a belief that anyone who died there would not suffer in hell.”
From A Short History of Drunkennness, By Mark Forsyth, Viking £12.99
Rats, if provided with unlimited free booze go crazy for a few days, “but then most of them settle down to two drinks a day: one just before feeding (which the scientists refer to as the cocktail hour) and one just before bedtime (the nightcap).”
The rat king, or dominant male of the colony steers clear of the free liquor completely, while the “low status males” drink the most.
From Swearing is Good For You, The Amazing Science of Bad Language, by Emma Byrne, Profile £12.99
Students persuaded by sadistic scientists to keep their hands in icy water until they could stand it no longer managed to endure half as long again if permitted to swear than those students who had to keep their language clean. This apparently indicates that a biological function of swearing may be pain relief.
From Technically Wrong, Sexist Apps, Biased Algorithms and Other Threats of Toxic Tech by Sara Wachter-Boettcher Norton £20
Tech is inherently sexist because it encodes countless male biases (because most people who work in tech are male), a discovery made the hard way by, for instance, “Louise Selby, a British paediatrician whose swipe card wouldn’t let her into her gym. It turned out the software considered everyone with the title “Doctor” must be a man.”