Edward Brooke-Hitching, author of The Madman’s Gallery, chooses his Top 5 quirky books.
1. Rogues, Villains and Eccentrics: An A-Z of Roguish Britons Through the Ages by William Donaldson
The platinum, the unobtainium of fun non-fiction, a crackpot compendium of funny, sometimes cheerfully horrifying short biographies of the quirkiest characters in British history.
2. Charlatan: America’s Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him, and the Age of Flimflam by Pope Brock
If you’re unfamiliar with early 20th-century quack John Romulus Brinkley, strap in and plunge into this astounding story of the doctor who made an absolute fortune from his patented pseudoscience involving the xenotransplantation of goat testicles.
3. The Land That Never Was: Sir Gregor Macgregor and the Most Audacious Fraud in History by David Sinclair
My favourite story of forgotten history, brilliantly researched and told. A tale people simply can’t believe they’ve never heard before. One of the greatest financial scams of all time, perpetrated by one of
the most outlandish characters of all time, and simply jaw-dropping in scale.
4. The Surgeon of Crowthorne: A Tale of Murder, Madness and the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester
The origin story of the Oxford English Dictionary seems too strange to be either fiction or fact, an episode of forgotten history full of twists that is engrossing and startling.
5. A Field Guide to the English Clergy: A Compendium of Diverse Eccentrics, Pirates, Prelates and Adventurers; All Anglican, Some Even Practising by The Revd Fergus Butler-Gallie
The good reverend collects together a riotous company of colleagues and predecessors to form an absolute clown car of a book, with eccentrics tumbling out at every angle. Witty, bonkers, delicious.