Dan Lewis Is Obsessed With Knowing It All

Author Sets Out To Share the Stories Behind Oddities and Facts

Thinkstock

By Anna Goldenberg

Published November 04, 2013, issue of November 08, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Here’s something you probably didn’t know: Back in the 1990s, advertisements for a drink called Limonana featuring celebrities such as soccer player Eli Ohana were placed on Israeli buses. But customers who actually tried to buy the lemon and mint lemonade in local stores wound up disappointed. The drink didn’t exist, but had been made up by the advertising company, which simply wanted to test if public buses served as an effective space for advertising.

Or how about this: The turkey is a bird native to America. But it is named after the Middle Eastern country Turkey in English, but after India in Turkish and Hebrew.

Dan Lewis’s first book, “Now I Know: The Revealing Stories Behind the World’s Most Interesting Facts,” which includes these facts and a slew of other tidbits, promises to serve those who are frequently surrounded by know-it-alls — or aspire to become one themselves. It features 100 brief, lively stories behind trivia, ranging from history and urban myths to biology and useful daily knowledge.

“There’s an oral tradition in Judaism to explain and analyze things,” Lewis, 36, told the Forward. Lewis grew up in Connecticut and studied law at Yeshiva University’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. He practiced for a few years, but is now the media communications director for Sesame Workshop, an educational non-profit associated with Sesame Street, in New York.

Lewis said that studying law taught him how to think in a structured way. Finding interesting facts, he added, was not hard. “It’s harder to decide which ones to write about,” he said. “What I add is an eye for what makes it interesting.”

This means that he places great emphasis on detailing the most obscure-sounding facts — “things that sound like fiction but aren’t.” For example, he recounts how the British intelligence service used a dead Welsh man to trick the Nazis by equipping the corpse with false information about British attack plans. In another story, he writes about the competing theories explaining why fingers wrinkle when they are wet.

“Now I Know” originated as an email newsletter three years ago. Lewis said he knew a great amount of random information and kept discovering more every day. “So I thought, maybe I could share it,” he said. Lewis sent out an email to 20 friends, family and “a few random people,” in which he explained why carrots are orange: It is the result of breeding, as the vegetable was originally purple.

After six months, Lewis had 1,000 subscribers. Today, roughly 800 newsletters later, he sends them to more than 100,000 people. The emails come five days a week, and are around 400 words long. The articles in the book have the same format. Half of them have never appeared in Lewis’s newsletter before.

Lewis says completing one newsletter takes him about an hour. He uses Wikipedia as his primary resource, but he works thoroughly, and consistently cites sources. Many of his ideas come from readers, who send him links to articles. The newsletters are part of his daily activity. He has researched and written several of them on his iPhone during his daily commute from Westchester to the City.

One of the most compelling aspects of “Now I Know” is that it shows how seemingly obscure facts can tell a bigger story. After all, the turkey carries its name because merchants from the Turkish Empire shipped it to Europe, where English speakers were confused about the bird’s origin. In Turkish and Hebrew, Lewis writes, “[they got] the original just as wrong, but in the other direction.” The bird is named after India, “furthering the Elizabethan-era belief that New World explorers had found a route to the Orient.”

So now you know.

Anna Goldenberg is the arts and culture intern at the Forward. She also writes about Jewish politics and food in Austria. Contact her at Goldenberg@forward.com


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • It’s over. The tyranny of the straight-haired, button nosed, tan-skinned girl has ended. Jewesses rejoice!
  • It's really, really, really hard to get kicked out of Hebrew school these days.
  • "If Netanyahu re-opens the settlement floodgates, he will recklessly bolster the argument of Hamas that the only language Israel understands is violence."
  • Would an ultra-Orthodox leader do a better job of running the Met Council?
  • So, who won the war — Israel or Hamas?
  • 300 Holocaust survivors spoke out against Israel. Did they play right into Hitler's hands?
  • Ari Folman's new movie 'The Congress' is a brilliant spectacle, an exhilarating visual extravaganza and a slapdash thought experiment. It's also unlike anything Forward critic Ezra Glinter has ever seen. http://jd.fo/d4unE
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.