Monday, April 13, 2009

Are You A Record Breaker?


If you’re anything like me, you spent some period in your life thinking that The Guinness Book of World Records was the coolest book ever. It wasn’t a book that was ever assigned in school, and it didn’t even need to be read straight through! It’s a book that folks keep going back to for fact checking, to get ideas of crazy things to try, or just see what wacky fact you can find to impress your friends with. And those pictures! The man with the beard of bees. The guy with the long fingernails. The tallest, shortest, fattest, fastest, highest—Guinness had it all (and still does). We’re all familiar with the Guinness Book. But do you know how it came about, how it has evolved over the years? What does it take to get IN to the book? Getting Into Guinness: One Man’s Longest, Fastest, Highest Journey Inside the World’s Most Famous Record Book won’t get you any closer to breaking a record yourself just by reading it, but reading it just might inspire you to try.

Larry Olmsted takes a multi-pronged approach in his (unofficial and unsanctioned by the Guinness people) look at Guinness. He chronicles the humble beginnings of the book as a marketing ploy for the beer company (yes, that IS where the name came from) to help settle bar bets and arguments in pubs all over Ireland and Britain to its current status as the world's best-selling copyrighted book. Along with this history, Olmsted talks about the evolution of the book itself, how categories and focus have changed over the years, and about some of the most unique records and record breakers. Some of the most interesting chapters recount Olmsted’s own attempts to set and break his own records—one for golf, and one for marathon poker playing. One of the final chapters recounts dangerous Guinness pursuits, some of which have now been retired as records, or banned entirely. Alas, the rules officials seem to be working with their own special logic when it comes to “too dangerous”. While tug of war, kissing cobras, and “youngest” anything (surgeon, pilot) are no longer considered, categories like keeping planes from taking off with your bare hands and dangling poisonous snakes from your mouth are still ok. The appendices at the end of the book are fun to read by themselves, and quite interesting. Olmsted details some of his favorite records in one, and another is a timeline of the book and its evolution, from its conception in 1954 to the company’s February 2008 sale to the same company that owns rival Ripley’s Entertainment (of Believe it Or Not fame). Recent years have seen more of an emphasis on celebrities and on color photographs, but even in its earlier years, Guinness evolved by putting more emphasis on human achievements (rather than mechanical or natural world ones), because that is what people wanted. And people always wanted more! From copycat books to television shows all over the world, Guinness World Records has reaches most corners of the globe. Arguably, the Guinness Book and accompanying television shows featuring record breakers and record attempts were the beginning of what we know today as reality TV. But you might be most interested in the chapter about what it really takes to get your name into the book. Olmsted details the process of applying to break a record (or having a new one accepted), all of which must be done through the Guinness web site, with further communication occurring via fax. He gives some helpful hints, though there will never be a guarantee that your record will be approved (or broken by someone else first!), and even if it is approved, and you achieve your goal, only about 10 % of records are actually published in the book! You might be particularly interested in checking out the new Guinness Gamer’s Edition. Getting Into Guinness is a fun read whether you just want to learn more about the history of the book and the people involved in creating it and making it famous, or if you have a special skill that you think just might make you a record breaker yourself. Start growing those fingernails now!


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