European game birds, settling arguments, and the world’s best-selling copyrighted book

Well, what do you think? Does a grouse fly faster than a golden plover?

They’re both game birds, popular with hunters in Europe, and in 1950 they were the subject of this debate — or rather, argument — that Sir Hugh Beaver was having with his hunting buddies. Beaver was the managing director of Guinness Brewery.

How do you settle a debate — argument — like that? You look it up, of course.

Only, in 1950, there was nowhere to look it up. No quick reference could settle the question.

So Beaver, frustrated, turned his frustration into an opportunity. Thus the idea was born: the Guinness Book of World Records. Debates — arguments — like the one he had with his hunting buddies must be happening all over the place, and the world needed an authoritative source to settle such questions.

At the suggestion of an employee a few years later, the Guinness company turned to Ross and Norris McWhirter, twin brothers who ran an agency that supplied British newspapers with facts and figures, and asked them to produce a book of records and interesting facts. The twins wrote night and day for 13 weeks and had a manuscript which was first published in 1955. Six months later, it was Britain’s best selling book.

In 1974, the book listed itself as a world record holder: It was the best selling copyrighted book ever at nearly 24 million copies. Since then, the number of copies sold has topped 100 million.

Source: Our history | Guinness World Records

Source: Guinness Book Is Up for Sale, Insiders Say – The New York Times

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Jim Stovall, a retired journalism prof, is now a novelist, self publisher, watercolorist, gardener, woodworker and beekeeper -- among others things.

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