Top critical review
Decent But Not Great Book
December 21, 2018
NOTE: The author informed me that the book was temporarily available for free on Amazon and asked me to write a review.
We seem to have a neverending fascination with trivia, bits and pieces of facts that have no real significance but nonetheless strike us as funny, strange, or sometimes downright bizarre. Bill O’Neill has gathered a lot of this information together and dispensed it to Amazon customers in what are now several dozen collections, the latest of which is “The Great Book of Ohio,” which, as you might guess consists of information about people, places, and events in and from Ohio. As with some of O’Neill’s other books, the information provided is mainly interesting, but the presentation sometimes leaves a good bit to be desired.
Unlike some of his previous collections that were merely lists of random facts, O’Neill divides the material in “The Great Book of Ohio” into various chapters devoted to history, pop culture, business and science, state attractions, crimes and mysteries, and sports. Further, O’Neill generally tries to organize his material by topics, with anywhere from a couple of paragraphs to a couple of pages devoted to each subject. So, rather than merely tell people what the name of the well-known restaurant chain Arby’s, which originated in Ohio, stands for (hint: it’s not roast beef), he goes into more depth about the history of the restaurant and the timeline of its various signature products. At the end of each chapter, he adds a numbered list of other facts that fit into the category subject, such as mentioning various common devices that were invented or first used in Ohio.
That approach is both a strength and a weakness of “The Great Book of Ohio.” When O’Neill is talking about an interesting topic, like Arby’s or his description of some rather gruesome crimes that occurred in the state, his material can be fascinating. At other times, there is no wonderment whatsoever, unless you happen to be a resident of a particular city and want something to brag about. After all, Ohio is a fairly populous state, so it stands to reason that numerous famous people will have been born there over the years. Filling this book up with a mere listing of some of them doesn’t generate any excitement. At one point, O’Neill even lists, as an interesting fact, the size and population of Ohio, something I doubt anyone is going to find of much interest. In another place, his entire mention of a particular state park is to say that the park is “a popular place for people who enjoy camping, hiking, biking, fishing, and other outdoor activities,” a description that only applies to about 10,000 or so parks in this country.
Further, there are a few blatant errors that I spotted quickly, such as saying that the birth name of Roy Rogers, who came from Ohio, was “Leonard Syle,” and that his nickname was “King of Cowboys.” Actually, Rogers was born Leonard Slye, and his nickname was “King of THE Cowboys.” I certainly didn’t try to fact check O’Neill’s work, but the fact that I found a couple of blunders like that doesn’t bode well for the accuracy of the rest of the book. And I don’t think it’s too much to expect an author of a book of trivia to make an effort to verify his facts before going to press. In addition to its factual blunders, “The Great Book of Ohio” is sloppily written. There are numerous grammatical mistakes in the book, and it has some awkward passages as well. The author also often repeats himself by starting several consecutive entries with “Did you know that … started in Ohio?” That style of writing gets tiresome.
While I don’t know how accurate “The Great Book of Ohio” is, I also that anyone who relies solely on a trivia book as a reference source deserves what they get. So, taking the book for what it is, I find it an improvement on some of O’Neill’s books that simply spout out hundreds of random facts. Organizing his facts and turning them into short articles makes for more interesting reading. I wish that, instead of trying to cram everything and everybody who had anything to do with Ohio into the book, with a sentence or two on some of them, O’Neill had gone into more depth on some of his interesting topics. But, while there is definitely room for improvement, O’Neill has enough genuinely interesting information in the book for me to recommend it. “The Great Book of Ohio,” a more accurate title might be “The Pretty Decent Book of Ohio.”