Schott's is a miscellany of essential information, uncommon knowledge and vital irrelevance. It includes the following:
How to fight a duel, the thirteen principles of witchcraft, the structure of military hierarchy, all of the clothing care symbols, a list of the countries where you drive on the left, useful words in Yiddish, a nursery rhyme about sneezing, the correct scoring at conkers, the supplier of bagpipes to the Queen, public schoolboy slang, iceberg sizes, the brutal methods of murder encountered by Miss Marple, wedding superstitions, how to wrap a sari, bed sizes, unusual deaths of Burmese monarchs, compound plurals (eg knickerbockers glory), the classification of clouds, words where the vowels are listed in alphabetical order, and the cockney alphabet.
The idea for the book came from last year's home-made Christmas cards Ben Schott sent to his friends. These were no ordinary cards but consisted of a little booklet containing all of the essential information he supposed that one needed to get through life, but could never find. Friends loved it and the book was subsequently snapped up by Bloomsbury and published on November 4. Last Tuesday evening, its amazon.co.uk sales ranking was 119. On Wednesday evening it was 42, on Thursday 29, and today it's the 6th best selling book in the country.
The book's popularity is all the more remarkable since it had up until this week received next to no press publicity. Word of mouth has launched it this far, and now the media are now catching up. Danny Baker on BBC Radio London has raved about it (interview with Ben here), and the Guardian gave it the lead article in yesterday's pullout G2 section. Desperate Christmas shoppers are gradually working out that this book is the perfect solution to their present-buying problems, so expect to be sent at least five copies in three weeks time.
This is viral marketing at its best, and the book is a sudden but well-deserved success. Two follow-ups are already planned. And, I must say, slipping a little booklet into the Christmas cards you send this year sounds like an excellent idea to me...