'"Prospect" magazine is the sharpest, wittiest and increasingly the most important journal of opinion in Britain'. 'Facts are stupid things', Ronald Reagan told the Republican National Convention in 1988. And in the six years I've been compiling the "In fact" column for "Prospect", I have occasionally felt the same. Yet for the most part we tend to revere facts; they drive scientific development, they fuel political debate, they fill up amusing books. A fact can be a slippery thing. Shorn of context, it can lend undeserved authority to a shoddy opinion; artfully combined with other facts, it can crowd out dissent. And it is not always clear that we do respect the things. Nine times out of ten, if someone accuses you of getting your facts wrong, what they're actually saying is that they don't like what you've done with them. The facts in this book will aim to amuse and astound, and sometimes even to change the way you see the world. For instance, does it not present the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a different light when you realise that the West Bank and the Gaza strip are roughly the same size as, respectively, Lincolnshire and Sheffield?
What about the strange shock to one's historical sense that comes from learning that Galileo was offered an academic seat at Harvard?