August 01, 1988 12:00 PM

by Don Lessem

Here are the four worst things about this often amusing collection of lists, rankings and idle observations: (1) There are too many mistakes. In a list of most strikeouts by a baseball batter in one season, Dave Kingman is called “Dave Schmidt” and Dave Nicholson becomes “Vern.” Among “the 10 worst snakes to be bitten by,” the fer-de-lance, common to much of Latin America, is said to be “found only on Martinique.”(2) Lessem, a Boston Globe contributor who worked on The Book of Lists, shows an atrocious lack of taste. A ranking of the worst countries for auto fatalities—Poland has the highest rate per vehicle—is headed, “Ever Hear the One about the Polish Driver?” (3) Lessem adds labored jokes to many lists. After “The 9 Worst Enemies of Animal Life,” drawn up by Cleveland Amory (the U.S. government is first, the Pennsylvania Fish & Game Department second), Lessem writes, “If I could have gotten into Imelda Marcos’s closets (Lord knows there was room enough for me and all of Cleveland), I suspect we could have included her on the list. How many alligators died for her pumps?” (4) There are too many categories—”The 10 Worst States for Small Business,” for instance, seems expendable. Other than that, Lessem enterprisingly obtained original contributions from such people as Frank Deford (on “The 5 Worst Miss Americas”), Henny Youngman (his “7 Worst Jokes”) and Alistair Cooke (“The 5 Worst American Preconceptions about the British”). Lessem also had sense enough not to include any lists of hard-to-satisfy book reviewers. (McGraw-Hill, paper, $7.95)

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