Curing Hiccups with Small Fires: A Delightful Miscellany of Great British Eccentrics), by Karl Shaw (Boxtree, £10.99)

FOR some reason the British Isles has thrown up more than its fair share of eccentrics. Curing Hiccups with Small Fires is a collection of the most interesting, informative and amusing.

The English aristocrat, John ‘Mad Jack’ Mytton, provided Karl Shaw with the title of the book. He died a penniless debtor in prison. His premature demise was partly due to injuries he sustained after he set fire to his nightshirt to try and cure hiccups. Before he lapsed into unconsciousness he said, "Well, the hiccups is gone, by God."

Then there’s the Scottish poet William McGonagall, who followed his muse to the general indifference of the public at large. He only managed to sell one of his verses, a rhyme to promote Sunlight Soap. The first few verses ran "You can use it with great pleasure and ease, without wasting any elbow grease, and when washing the most dirty clothes, the sweat won’t be dripping off your nose."

With another 198 eccentrics of this type, Curing Hiccups with Small Fires is very dippable, the perfect book to waste a little time with."