Did you know that Columbus believed that the world is shaped like a woman's breast?

DRB Exclusive Interview with the author Kenneth C. Davis

In "Don't Know Much About Anything Else", the latest installment of the wildly entertaining and educational DON'T KNOW MUCH ABOUT series, Kenneth C. Davis presents a collection of facts and tidbits about fascinating people and historical topics.

Kenneth C. Davis is the author of "Don't Know Much About History", which spent thirty-five consecutive weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. The book sold nearly 1.5 million copies and gave rise to his phenomenal "Don't Know Much About" series, which has over four million copies in print.


Awesome tidbits of information - a sample:

"Beware: You may easily become addicted to Davis' breezy style and his treasury of odd and fascinating facts." – The Washington Post

1. Besides his paintings and lithographs, Dali's most famous work is the notable short film Un Chien Andalou -

The sixteen-minute film made with Luis Bunuel is a surrealist classic with such shocking images as a woman's eyeball being sliced - Watch it (carefully) on YouTube here

2. In "From the Earth to the Moon" (1865), Jules Verne's space travelers are shot out of a cannon located in which place? -

Florida! - anticipating the future locations of American's space launches.

3. During World War II, the Nazis issued a version of Nostradamus's prophecies to convince Germans of the Nazi's ultimate victory -

True. The Nazi's also believed that the prophecies would convince thier enemies of their inevitable victory.

(image via)

4. Where did "red light district" originate? -

In Dodge City of the Old West, Kansas - train masters would carry their red caboose lanterns when they went to visit the town's "soiled doves", or barroom prostitutes.

5. The first English name for the Hawaiian Islands was the Sandwich Islands -

Captain James Cook named the islands after his patron and sponsor, John Montagu, the Earl of Sandwich, famed otherwise as the man who stuck meat between two slices of bread.

6. Parts of Alaska are only 2.5 miles from Russia -

Little Diomede Island is 2.5 miles from Russia's Big Diomede island.

7. Re: Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962 - The missiles in Cuba were a Soviet response to U.S. missile bases in Turkey. -

In 1959, American missiles had been deployed near the Soviet border and were considered a great threat by the Soviet Union, which feared an American "first strike." These missiles were removed as part of the negotiations between Kennedy and the Soviet leader Khruschev.

(image via)

8. Re: "The Wizard of Oz" - where did the word "Oz" come from? -

Baum said he looked at the filing cabinet which was labeled "A-N" and "O-Z." He chose the latter, otherwise it might have been The Wizard of An.

9. What was the most costly punctuation error in history? -

Probably the comma left out of the computer program for NASA's Mariner I Venus probe, which resulted in the craft's destruction.

Pelican Nebula, image via


We asked Kenneth some questions (cause we don't know much about anything, either) -

DRB: How did you first get the idea for these books and the quiz format?

My very smart wife said, ‘You love History. Why don’t you write about it?’ This was back when we were learning how dumb Americans are when it comes to History. The question and answer style came easily— we all have these questions. Why nor provide some real answers, in a style that was fun, accurate, accessible but most of all human. It worked and that was the beginning of the Don’t Know Much About series.

DRB: What is your favorite method of research, and what is your favorite topic?

On research, first, I am a reader — a book reader — and even though the Internet has changed everything about research, I still love to roam libraries and bookstores in search of intriguing books. It’s the best way to find what you are NOT looking for sometimes. That’s how I came across the story of Columbus writing in his logs that world was not round but pear-shaped — he actually wrote it was like a “woman’s breast.”

The second research key is seeing the places I write about. I went to Florida to research the Spanish history there and literally stumbled across the story of the slaughter of the French Pilgrims —a story that I knew nothing about. It became the first chapter in America’s Hidden History. As far as a topic — American History, which is of course a very broad subject. I am always amazed at the connections I discover between our past and present.

(image credit: TM, Russia)

DRB: What is the strangest tidbit you've uncovered?

I think learning that Columbus believed that world was shaped like a woman’s breast and the place he was talking about was "like the nipple, highest and closest to heaven," was pretty strange. And wonderful. It made Columbus real to me. I tell that story in Don’t Know Much About Geography. The story of Hannah Dustin, once America’s most famous woman, is also strangely wonderful. She was captured by Indians and killed ten of them in the night with the help of two fellow captives. Then she went back and took their scalps for a reward. They built a statue to her with scalps in one hand, hatchet in the other. I tell her story in America’s Hidden History, a book filled with “strange” but untold tales from our past.

DRB: Why do you think your books are so popular? Is it the format, or the wide range of subject matter?

I think they are popular because people are curious and feel they have been badly educated. We are not dummies or idiots, just the products of a lousy school system that prizes dates and “facts” over real people. Curiosity gets killed by school. All I try and do is relight that fire of curiosity instead of just “filling a pail,” as Yeats put it.

DRB: Who do you think is the most intriguing historical figure?

Sticking to American History, I start with Lincoln because of the life he came from, the challenges he faced, and his unique approach. But I also love the “villains” -- Benedict Arnold was a key character in America’s Hidden History and Aaron Burr will be featured in my next book. Bad guys are usually more interesting than good guys. That’s why we love Hannibal Lechter and Tony Soprano.

(image via)

DRB: Can you ever get anyone to play Trivial Pursuit with you?

I love to play with my children and their friends. I believe I have only lost once. With humility, I say, you would want me on your team.

DRB: Do your friends ever call you an insufferable know-it-all? Has anyone ever thrown this at you: "People who think they know everything are particularly annoying to those of us who do"?

I haven’t heard that line ... Yet. But seriously I think the most important thing to know is that you don’t know it all. I am always astonished at how much there is to learn. That sense of humility about what you know is an important ingredient in learning — and teaching.

DRB: Browsing through your book, "Don't Know Much About Anything Else" has already inspired us to delve more deeply into subjects we didn't know much about. Do you get a lot of feedback along those lines? Is that a motivating factor for you?

I always say that my books are the “first word” on a subject, not the last word. The most important things I do, I think, is inspire people to learn more, continue to exercise their creativity and curiosity and question their assumptions — whether it is about religion, politics, history or a Caddy versus a Lincoln.

DRB: At Dark Roasted Blend, we are dedicated to the on-going quest for wisdom and beauty, for all things cool and wonderful in our world, and beyond... we try to promote the sense of wonder that has been largely neglected in our cynical times. Would you agree with that sentiment, and do you find yourself digging into unusual stuff just for the sheer joy of it?

I don’t see that as an either/or... The world is cynical -- with good reason. But it is also amazing, and I find joy in the “digging” and in seeing that “glimpse of truth for which you’ve forgotten to ask,” as Joseph Conrad once wrote. The great part is that we can have fun doing it. And that’s what I am about. Being on the road to getting smarter and enjoying the trip.

Buy it from Amazon

So, check out incredibly compelling books by Kenneth C. Davis... rather more interesting way to learn some cool facts, than just "googling it" -


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Blogger BrianDeuelDotCom said...

Number 9 is an urban legend. The actual error was in transcribing an overbar in an equation that caused the rocket guidance failure. It was a simple omission of a specific equation. The same omission almost caused the failure of the Ranger 5 launch as well, but they caught it in time and fixed it.

Too bad Ranger 5 failed for other reasons...

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great interview, and I love how you feel about bring back Wonder. The world has plenty of information, what we need now is something to spark the desire to learn MORE.

Anonymous Anonymous said...


If that is an urban myth, then NASA itself believes in it (and FWIW it wasn't a comma, it was a missing hyphen that caused the equation to be wrong/missing).

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good stuff.


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