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26 May 1974 |
North London, England
|Education||University College School, Hampstead|
|Alma mater||Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge|
|Notable works||Schott's Miscellany, Schott's Almanac|
Early life and university
Ben Schott was born in North London, England, the son of a neurologist and a nurse. He has one brother, also now a neurologist. He went to school at University College School, Hampstead – both the junior school in Holly Hill and the senior school in Frognal.
Schott went to Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge, where he read Social and Political Sciences. At Cambridge he was a regular photographer for the university student newspaper Varsity. He played college hockey, cricket, and croquet – though not to a very high standard. He was also a member of a number of dining societies, as well as being secretary of the Shakespeare Society – one of the oldest undergraduate societies in Cambridge. He took a double first in 1996.
After Cambridge, Schott got a job at the London advertising agency J. Walter Thompson where he was as an account manager on the Nestlé Rowntree account working on Smarties, Kit Kat, and Polo. After only four months he resigned to become a freelance photographer.
Schott worked as a photographer from 1996–2003, specialising in portraits of politicians and celebrities. He was commissioned by a range of editorial and commercial clients, including The Independent, The Sunday Times, Sunday Business, Reader's Digest, and the Institute of Directors. A profile in The Times said "his subjects included John Prescott, who was rude, and Sir Roy Strong, who had "the most wonderful, doleful eyes" and told him: “You must realise I’m awfully photogenic.” Tony Blair asked Schott if he'd like to see then-baby Leo; Cherie barked at him not to take too long as they were about to have lunch." His photographic portfolio is online.
As The Guardian wrote of Schott's Original Miscellany, the first of Schott's three Miscellanies titles, "the idea for the book came from home-made Christmas cards that Schott sent to friends. They were no ordinary cards, but consisted of little booklets containing all of the essential information he supposed that one needed to get through life, but could never find". Schott typeset the book himself and had 50 copies privately printed by the Pear Tree Press in Stevenage. After sending copies out to his friends, he sent one to the CEO of Bloomsbury, Nigel Newton. As Newton told the Boston Globe, "I was completely bowled over when it arrived on my desk. It was a work of striking originality, and it was remarkable to receive an unsolicited submission like this in the mail. I immediately passed it to one of our editors, who signed it up."
Schott's Original Miscellany was published with little fanfare, but an article by Stuart Jeffries on the front page of the Guardian's G2 section on 6 December 2002 changed everything. Describing the book as the "publishing sensation of the year", the article said that "Schott has hit the list motherlode". Sales raced up, and within weeks Schott's Original Miscellany was at No. 1. Robert McCrum said of the book in The Observer: "Originality is like charisma. It's hard to define, but we know it when we find it ... Schott's Original Miscellany is without doubt the oddest, and possibly merriest, title you will come across in a long day's march through the shimmering desert of contemporary publishing".
Schott followed up the success of the Original Miscellany with three sequels – Schott's Food & Drink Miscellany, Schott's Sporting, Gaming, & Idling Miscellany and Schott's Quintessential Miscellany. While the first two were best-sellers (Schott had two books simultaneously in the Sunday Times top ten), sales did not match the runaway success of the first book.
The Miscellany trilogy has sold well over 2 million copies, and has been translated and adapted into dozens of languages, including French, Russian, Greek, Swedish, Finnish, Italian, Serbian, Spanish, Hungarian and Japanese.
The first edition of Schott's Almanac was published in Britain in 2005, followed by yearly editions published in Britain, America, and Germany until 2010. The Almanacs shared the same look and feel as the Miscellanies – but were substantially longer and larger. Each edition was different, although some content was shared or adapted. The British edition had sections on The World; Society; Media & Celebrity; Music & Movies; Books & Arts; Science & Technology; Parliament & Politics; Form & Faith; The Establishment; Sport; and an Ephemerides section that contains traditional almanac information on dates, moon phases, and the season. The Sunday Times called Schott's Almanac "a social barometer of genuine historical value"; the Boston Globe called it "One of the oddest and most addictively readable reference books in print". Schott introduced the 2006 Almanac with a quote from Ben Hecht: "Trying to determine what is going on in the world by reading newspapers is like trying to tell the time by watching the second hand of a clock".
For two years after the publication of the first Miscellany, Schott wrote a weekly miscellany column for The Daily Telegraph, and also produced special miscellany features on Christmas and the Olympics. For over a year he wrote a regular travel miscellany column for the UK edition of Condé Nast Traveler magazine. In 2005 and 2006 the Guardian featured special editions of G2 featuring extracts from Schott's Almanac.
Schott typesets all of his books and most of his articles – now using Adobe's InDesign after apparently abandoning QuarkXPress. His books are noted for specifying the precise design tools (fonts, leading, etc.) that he employs. He has regularly acknowledged the influence of the work of Edward Tufte in influencing the look and feel of his books.
The characteristic cover illustrations for his books are created by Alison Lang, and the drawing inside the Almanacs are by Chris Lyon.
Miscellaneous facts about Ben Schott:
- he has always wanted to be the host of I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue;
- GQ readers voted Schott one of their Men of the Year in 2003 – but he declined the award.
- Haldenby, Andrew (2002). "Ben gave up a pension – but his trivial pursuit has become a serious success". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 20 April 2010.
- "The devil of the details". The Times. London. 4 November 2006.
- "Schott Media".
- Jeffries, Stuart (6 November 2002). "The bare facts". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 20 April 2010.
- Mehegan, David (7 November 2006). "He's a real gee-whiz kind of guy". The Boston Globe.
- McCrum, Robert (8 December 2002). "God bless you, Mr Schott". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 20 April 2010.
- The Independent. "Book of a lifetime".[dead link]
- "D&AD awards 2004" (PDF).
- "If you haven't a clue". The Guardian. London. 12 November 2005. Retrieved 20 April 2010.
- Edemariam, Aida (14 October 2006). "Maximum volume". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 20 April 2010.