IT PAYS TO READ…

I love facts. I love trivia. As a child, drug I adored “The People’s Almanac”, prescription its sequels, ed and its sister book series, “The Book of Lists”.

First published in 1975, “The People’s Almanac” was the Wikipedia of the pre-Internet age, a 1,000-page compendium of facts about weird shit. Also about mundane shit, but the book was full of fascinating floating tidbits of information on a wide range of subjects. It was, as the book series later became tagged: “History with all the boring parts left out.”

Somehow, all my copies of the books listed above, the copies I had in my childhood, have all vanished, probably sold in my mother’s garage sales. So, I recently went out and bought them all again on-line. They can be found very cheap online, usually between $4-6 (including shipping).

As I poured through my recently acquired copy of the first volume of The People’s Almanac, I came across this truly bizarre statement, under the heading of “U.S. History: 1964″. It happened to catch my eye because it listed this as happening on Jan. 16, which is my birthday:

Ex-hog-cutter Antonio De Angelis, accused of perpetrating the greatest swindle in history, was arrested and held on bail of $46,500,000, also a record. De Angelis was convicted of making a profit of $175 million by substituting sea water for salad oil.

At first, I balked at this fact. I couldn’t quite wrap my brain around the story, as told in the second sentence. I immediately went online and tried to find some verification for the story, but the only Google entry I could find was from a website called Trivia-Library.com, which just reprinted the same two sentences straight from The People’s Almanac.

A few days later, I discovered that the book had spelled De Angelis’s name with the original spelling, and that a wealth of info came my way when I Googled “Anthony De Angelis” instead of “Antonio De Angelis”.

Here’s the fascinating Wikipedia entry on the early ’60s salad oil scandal, and here’s a much fuller reprint of an article on the subject from the Saturday Evening Post.

There was also a book written in ’66, called “The Great Salad Oil Swindle”, but sadly, it’s quite rare, and the cheapest copy I could find on Amazon was around $70. Anyone wanna buy me a copy?

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106 Responses to IT PAYS TO READ…

  1. James says:

    I read the Book of List series, and (to a lesser extent), the People’s Almanac books compulsively as a kid. I first learned of Love’s Forever Changes album was when it included in one of the Book of Lists on a “best rock albums of all time” list (I think it was the second BoL). Even then, I was familiar with the other musicians who made the list (Beatles, Dylan, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, etc.), but Love, I didn’t know. I didn’t get to hear Forever Changes until long after reading that, either.

  2. derek says:

    Funny and weird story…I love this blog, mostly because of the music, but also for cool tidbits like this.

    By the way, we share the same birthday Jan 16!

  3. EH says:

    I love the Peoples Almanacs! I have the first and second one in hardcover, the same copies that I devoured as a kid in the 70s. I can still remember laughing with my dad & brother about the little section on graffiti, “Judge Crater please call your office,” and, “Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny,” (which I only looked up the meaning in the last year. It keeps on giving).

  4. no-ah says:

    great post, thanks.

  5. Mushroom says:

    I had to have all the Book Of Lists book when I was a kid, and only own one of the Almanacs. The Wallace family did a bang-up job with them, and my copy of the first Book (in paperback) is so dog-eared and sliver-of-paper bookmarked it’s absurd. Glad someone remembers it.

    Must check the links to see how anyone confuses seawater with salad oil… I recall seeing that reference in the book as a preteen but never questioned how/why. :)

  6. Alan B says:

    When I was 11 I was a nerd and was given this book by my mom before she had had a chance to read it all the way through. She discovered her mistake and forced me to give it up for a very juvenile book about mailing away for stuff. I cried and screamed. Little did Mom know I was tearing up the house and reading everything else I wasn’t supposed to, including my dad’s National Lampoons from 1971-73. :D And I eventually snuck this one out of her room, too….

  7. Anajonda says:

    When I was a kid (20+ years ago), I adored this and Vol. 2. When it states in the introduction that it’s “a reference book made to be read for pleasure”, they sure weren’t exaggerating!