It’s not often that I will read nonfiction, I generally prefer tales of the made up kind. However, sometimes a piece of nonfiction comes along where you say to yourself, ‘Honestly, you couldn’t make this stuff up’. Craig Brown’s One on One falls into that category. The book tells of 101 chance encounters between figures of history or popular culture. The hook is that each story is connected; it’s sort of a “seven degrees of separation”.
Brown has heavily researched the book and constructed an interesting patchwork quilt of random meetings and conversations that will generally interest. Whether it’s Mark Twain bidding farewell to Helen Keller or Barry Humphries talking Aboriginal to Salvador Dali (this then links to Dali sketching Sigmund Freud), each snippet is full of whimsy. In essence the book is a collection of anecdotes from the most informed and connected member of the party.
There’s something in here for everyone as the connections are incredibly wide ranging taking in literary greats, historical figures and even celebrity Big Brother. Not only is it an entertaining book, but it also educates and informs. Slices of history are uncovered for those not in the know and some even show how history could have been changed by one small change. This is particularly shown in the opening of the book as we see John Scott-Ellis hit Adolf Hitler with his car. Scott-Ellis then ponders, after the war, how events would have played out if he had been driving a bit faster.
It’s these moments that cause genuine wonder and reflection from the reader and Brown employs such a simple writing style that each page is a joy to read. It’s a book that can be left to one side and easily dipped into, much like a book of short stories.
One thing to note, of course, is that some chapters can be a little dull if you have no interest in the figures depicted or are unfamiliar with them. However as each chapter is only three pages, it won’t take all that long to read or you can indeed skip that section and move onwards without missing out. This happened to me a few times, but I never minded skipping ahead.
I was impressed with the book. It’s such a simple concept that with a wealth of research from Brown after reading you feel as if you’ve learned some closely guarded secrets from some of the most well known people to have lived.
Available now from Fourth Estate. Hardback – 358 pages, Nonfiction, Kindly sent by the publisher.