Take Two for November 28, 2012

NPR librarian Kee Malesky invites readers to 'Learn Something New Every Day'

Learn Something New Every Day

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Cover of Kee Malesky's book "Learn Something New Every Day."

What was the greatest thing before sliced bread? What color did carrots used to be? Why do many American spellings differ from their British counterparts?

In her new book, "Learn Something New Every Day: 365 Facts to Fulfill Your Life," NPR librarian Kee Malesky enlightens readers on 365 little-known facts. 

Interview Highlights:

On the first American books:
“Well, there is a book called ‘Famous First Facts’ and it was one of my sources because it has lots of really cool, mostly unknown bits about American history. So this was what I learned: The first book published by a settler in the new world, a true relation of such occurrences and accidents of note as have happened in Virginia since the first planting of that colony by Captain John Smith, using the pseudonym T. Watson in 1608. It was a plain, unadorned accounts of hardships, but it had to printed in London because the first printing press didn’t arrive in America until about thirty years later.”

The title of the first American children’s book:
“Milk for babes drawn out of the breasts of both testaments chiefly for the spiritual nourishment of Boston babes in either England, but maybe of like use for any children”

On what is Operation Acoustic Kitty:
“In the height of the Cold War in the mid 1960s, American spies thought it would be a good idea to surgically implant a microphone and transmitting gear inside a cat. The animal, they thought, could then be trained to eavesdrop surreptitiously on the Kremlin or at Russian embassies. After investing millions of dollars, the CIA was ready for the first live trial. The cat was released, and immediately run over by a taxi cab. Spies cut their losses and ended the program, noting in a memo that despite successful training, using cats to spy would not be practical.”

On the story of the founding of Los Angeles:
“September 4th, 1781, 44 settlers, a diverse group of people of Spanish, Native American, and African descent known as Los Pobladores, or the townspeople, founded the city now known as Los Angeles. Its precise, original name has been a source of contention ever since. It was called, ‘El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora La Reina de los Ángeles del río de Porciúncula,’ the town of our lady the queen of the angels of the river Porciuncula. There’s as many as eleven versions of the name in the early days, depending on which books, papers, plaques, maps, or old documents you consult. Even the historical markers around Olvera Street, the center of old Los Angeles, do not agree. Whatever it’s original formal name, we do know that the city, which had only 315 residents in 1800, grew by 3000% between 1890 and 1940. Today the population of the Los Angeles Long Beach Riverside combined statistical area is about 18 million.” Learn Something New Every Day:365 Facts To Fulfill Your Life


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