August 08, 2003 at 04:00 AM EDT

With lists of abstruse weights and arcane measures, classifications of clouds and classical columns, instructions on how to wrap a sari and tie a bow tie, taxonomies of cattle brands, and summaries of ”Curious Deaths of Some Burmese Kings,” Schott’s Original Miscellany (Bloomsbury, $14.95) is a charmingly addictive 158-page curiosity cabinet. ”It’s not trivia,” insists Ben Schott, its 29-year-old curator (below). ”The book has no biggest, tallest, longest, deepest, most-poisonous lists. If it doesn’t amuse me, I don’t put it in: That’s the selection criterion.”

A few years ago, the London-based portrait photographer made a deluxe, 16-page Christmas card of delightfully random facts. ”People seemed to be massively enthusiastic,” he says. ”More than I thought was rational.” After added hours of labor in The British Library, Schott assembled a volume that became a No. 1 best-seller in the U.K. last spring. He spent another five months upping the Americana for the new U.S. edition. (Goodbye, supplier of bagpipes to the Queen; hello, singers of the national anthem at the Super Bowl!)

Schott plots follow-up collections on sports and food: ”I’ve got a discussion of space food, of what exactly humble pie is, of why the Romans developed a taste for dormouse, of what different foods taste like.” Pardon? ”Armadillo tastes of rabbit, badger tastes like mutton, reindeer tastes like veal.” Thankfully, there won’t be recipes.

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