Monday, 18 April 2011
Monday Musings: Review of 42 by Peter Gill
A common question about Douglas Adams’ famous Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy is just why Adams chose the number 42 as the answer to life, the universe and everything. In a charming trivia book, author Peter Gill takes 50 pages or so to look into the story of the book and the author and another 250 to find occurrences of 42 in the worlds of sport, crime, science and a wide range of other fields.
Everyone will have their own personal favourite facts and figures from this excellent collection – my vote for the most interesting just about goes to the bit about the alumni of Chicago’s Forty-Two Gang and former leader Sam Giancana’s links to JFK and Fidel Castro. Intrigued? You should be…
There are several points at which Gill plays rather fast and loose with the number – notably when talking about cricket, with the quote ‘’The first law prevents the use of 42 fielders, or less specifically all numbers over eleven.’’ Thanks to a bright and breezy writing style, he gets away with this – if he’d been more ruthless about cutting it down to actual 42’s, we’d have lost out on learning about the Polynesian game of kirikiti so I can forgive him for it. Similarly, 4.2 and the football score 4-2 are considered fair game and when it’s used as an excuse to inform us that Geoff Hurst unveiled a statue in Baku to Tofic Bahkramov, the Azerbaijani – NOT Russian! – linesman who gave the goal in that famous World Cup Final, that’s fine by me. Especially since I’ve managed to get at least three pub quiz questions written from that fact.
While the majority of the book is equally likely to appeal to you whether you’re a fanatical fan of the Hitchhiker’s Guide or a total novice, the last 50 pages and the appendix ‘’The 42 explanations’’ can be enjoyed by everyone but are likely to be the part which pushes this into ‘must-read’ territory for fervent fans of Douglas Adams. We have here plenty on the author and the book, most notably the thank you letter he wrote to the author of the book which inspired him, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to Europe, which is absolutely fascinating to read, and a list of possible explanations for the choice, my favourite of which I will resist spoiling for you (but it relates to a classic song featured in a Doris Day musical…)
Very high recommendation.