The latter, Nicholas Hobbes's England - 1000 Things You Need To Know is a whole mash up of facts and figures, and quite a lot of lists. The lists - of English Nobel prize-winners or bridges by Brunel - are a bit... lacking in excitement. But there's plenty of top facts and insights along the way, too.
For example, I already knew that wool had been such a major part of the English economy that the Lord Speaker of the House of Lords sits on a comfy woolsack. These days the woolsack is stuffed with wool from all across the Commonwealth.
But I didn't know this little gem:
"Under a statute of 1556, anyone caught 'owling' - smuggling wool to France in the night - would have their left hand cut off and nailed up on display in a public place. Under George I, in the eighteenth century, this was changed to seven years' transportation."
Nicholas Hobbes, England - 1000 Things You Need To Know, p. 355.Annoyingly, sources for this stuff are rarely given, and I'd also have liked some kind of "Further Reading" section, to help follow up on my favourite morsels. But it's a great toilet book, just as Nimbos thought it might be. And full of top facts I can pinch for my own writing.
I've set myself the target of writing a complete first draft of a short story today. It currently consists of several pages of notes in my notebook, so I should probably get on with it now...