BRIAN LAMB, HOST:Robert Famighetti, editorial director of The World Almanac and Book of Facts 1999, when did you first get involved with this?
ROBERT FAMIGHETTI, AUTHOR, "WORLD ALMANAC AND BOOK OF FACTS 1999": Five years ago. And I've been involved in putting out reference books for a lot longer than that. And for my whole
professional career and even before that, as a student, I was a user
of The World Almanac; found it about the most useful book that I had
ever come across. And then five years ago, I had the opportunity to
become the editor of this book, one of the most valuable and most
famous of all reference books. And I jumped at that opportunity and
I'm glad I did. I've been having fun with it ever since.
LAMB: Where's it headquartered?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Our office is in Mahwah, New Jersey, which is in the
New York City metropolitan area. And, of course, we have a staff in
house and then also work with a good number of outside expert
consultants and contributors. For example, there's a leading
astronomer we work with in revising and updating the astronomy chapter
every year. There's a leading tax accountant we work with in revising
and updating the taxes chapter so that it always reflects the most
current changes in the tax code. And so we do that in a number of
LAMB: Who invented it?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: World Almanac has a pretty long history, actually.
The first edition was published back in 1868 and one of the big news
stories in that year, by the way, was the impeachment of Andrew
Johnson. And, of course, here we are 131 years later and The World
Almanac is covering another impeachment trial. But, anyway, the first
edition was published back in 1868 and the first publisher was the New
York World newspaper. And the book grew out of a collection of facts
that the reporters and editors of the paper had put together,
essential facts on a variety of subjects that they would use in house
when working on their stories. And then someone came up with the idea
that if this collection of facts is so useful to us, why don't we put
it out in book form and maybe it'll be of interest and value to the
general public as well. And I guess that turned out to be a good
idea, because the book has been around for over 130 years, is still
extremely successful, is about 10 times its original size. The first
edition was a book of 120 pages, and this year The World Almanac is
more than 1,000 pages. We've expanded the number of pages and the
amount of information for the new 1999 edition.
LAMB: How big is your staff?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Well, the book's over 1,000 pages but it's not a
cast of thousands that puts it out, although some people might think
you need that. It's actually a half dozen very talented, diligent and
hardworking people who are the full-time editorial staff for The World
LAMB: So if we go to your headquarters in Mahwah, New Jersey, we'll
just find half a dozen people there?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Half dozen people working on The World Almanac and
working very hard at it. And, as I mentioned a couple of minutes ago,
we do have outside expert consultants and one of the real strengths of
The World Almanac editorial staff is that they know, for every type of
information, whatever the subject area, the best sources to go to for
the most authoritative, objective, up-to-date information, whether
it's economic statistics or transportation statistics or the top
grossing films or the most popular TV shows or the wealth of sports
statistics that are in the book.
One of the great values of The World Almanac is that the staff does so
much legwork for the reader. We know the best sources to go to. We
go to literally hundreds and hundreds of different sources in
collecting information for each year's edition. And we pull together
all of that raw data and edit it and format it and put it into a
user-friendly presentation so that it's right at people's fingertips,
easy to find, easy to read, easy to understand and there it is for
you, just about any subject you want to know about; information on it
and the answers to your questions about it are going to be in The
LAMB: Now you have a hardback and a paperback.
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Right. Right. It was...
LAMB: Can you give us some idea how many you sell in a year?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: I'm pleased to say it's in the millions and, of
course, the majority of those are the paperback edition, which I think
is a tremendous value. It's very popularly priced, $10.95 for
the paperback World Almanac, more than 1,000 pages. A book that, if
you keep it on the shelf at home, you'll be referring to it over and
over again throughout the year. I know the book is very extensively
used by students. Millions of people keep it in their offices, refer
to it constantly. I know it's very popular with journalists who refer
to it all the time. And we find ourselves quoted and our statistics
cited in numerous articles in leading publications.
LAMB: Do you have any of those anecdotal stories that, you know--I
don't know. I think you probably know what I'm talking about--fun
things that people have used this for.
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Well, people can use it for just about everything.
You know, if you look in the fine print in the front of the book,
there's a statement that The World Almanac does not decide wagers.
And that's our official position. But I believe that the book is
actually quite popular with bartenders and can be useful for settling
any number of arguments, whether it's, you know, what year was it that
Joe DiMaggio set his hitting streak record or just how old is Meg
Ryan or Paul Newman or Julia Roberts or any other show business
personality you're interested in. So The World Almanac can settle a
lot of arguments, even if we don't decide wagers.
LAMB: Who owns it?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: The company is PRIMEDIA Reference. That is the
publisher of The World Almanac. And it's no longer published by a
newspaper company but now by a major book and magazine publisher.
LAMB: Who did they buy it from?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: It was actually bought from Scripps Howard.
LAMB: And the original owner of the--was it the--did you say the New
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: New York World.
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Right, was one of the leading newspapers in New York
at the time.
LAMB: Who owned it then?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: I'm sorry, I don't know.
LAMB: Now why did you decide that you wanted to spend your life doing
this? What was it--what were you doing before this?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Well, I've worked in reference book publishing for
my whole career and I'm interested in facts. I'm interested
in all subjects. I'm interested in current news and
developments. And so it was really a natural for me to be associated
with The World Almanac. One of the things The World Almanac is, is a
book of record on the year that's just closed. For example, there's a
great deal of information in the current 1999 World Almanac that's a
recap of the most important news events, most important trends of
1998. And we also have two photo sections. It's called 1998 In
Pictures. And we reproduced there some of the most dramatic news
photos of the year or memorable news photos or pictures that capture
the most memorable news events, whether it's Mark McGwire hitting his
62nd home run or the last episode of "Seinfeld," which many people,
you know, lamented. There's a scene from "Titanic" in our photo
section. Naturally, that film was such a titanic success at the
box office and won a record number of Oscars.
LAMB: On page 598, you have a Millennium Fact Box. What is
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: We actually have a bunch of those scattered
throughout the book. It's not news to anybody, I don't think, that
the millennium is approaching and that's a time to kind of look
back and remember some of the most important historical events or
trends. And so for the past couple of years, we've been including
Millennium Fact Boxes in a number of chapters in The World Almanac,
where we take a look back at historical trends or put current
information in context. And I think the one you were just showing was
the Fact Box that was prepared by Arthur Schlesinger and we asked him
to give us his choice of the 10 most influential people of the second
millennium. And he did that and he gave us an intriguing list, I
think. William Shakespeare...
LAMB: Number one is Shakespeare; number two is Isaac Newton; three,
Charles Darwin; Copernicus four; Galileo five; Albert Einstein six;
Christopher Columbus seven; Abraham Lincoln eight; Gutenberg nine; and
William Harvey 10.
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Right.
LAMB: Do you happen to know who William Harvey was?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Yes, I do. He's a physician and one of his major
contributions was discovery of the circulation of blood within the
LAMB: Now did--you know, I could ask you 7,000 questions here. How much do you feel you have to know in order to feel comfortable about what's in the book?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Well, I've got most of the book memorized. No,
that's not true. You actually don't have to have a lot
memorized because you could always look it up in The World Almanac.
But, of course, I'm familiar with the content of the book.
LAMB: Well, take this. Why would you choose one man, Arthur
Schlesinger, to do the 10 most influential people of the second
millennium, and why did you pick him?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Well, we picked him because he's extremely well
respected and prominent historian and I think his views on the subject
deserve serious--serious consideration and--and carry some weight.
And so we were interested to see what would his selection be of the 10
most influential people of the millennium. And, of course, one of the
fun aspects of any list of this kind is that after you read it
and find out and think about, well, what did Arthur Schlesinger
think on this question, you can then sit back for a couple of minutes
and come up with your own list. If I were picking my 10 most
influential people of the millennium, who would they be and how would
my list be the same as Schlesinger's, how might it be different? So I
think any kind of top 10 list or most important list, it can be a
source of, you know, a few minutes of just kind of thought and
enjoyment and something intriguing to think about.
LAMB: Now do you pay people like Mr.--or Dr. Schlesinger--or he's
not doctor actually--Professor Schlesinger to do this?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: He actually was paid a nominal fee. I don't think that was a serious consideration for him. I know
that he's a lifelong fan of The World Almanac and I know he has had
The World Almanac close at hand for many years and I think he
enjoyed being a contributor to it and we really appreciate his
contribution to The World Almanac.
LAMB: What about Bob Costas? You asked him to do the 25 most
dramatic moments in sports.
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Right.
LAMB: And you devote--I counted just a little over 100 of your 1,000
pages to sports.
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Right.
LAMB: And it's at the end of the book. Tell us why those kind of
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Well, it's one of the longer chapters in The
World Almanac, and I think that reflects the fact that it's very
high interest subject. Judging from mail we get, and we get thousands
of letters a year, by the way, both conventional mail and,
increasingly, e-mail messages these days.
LAMB: Why do people write you?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Well, people write for a number of reasons. I'm
pleased to say we get a good number of letters from readers who just
tell us how useful they find the book and--and how much they enjoy
having it around and--and consulting it. And we get a lot of letters
from readers who tell us what they'd like to see more of in The World
Almanac, what subjects we should, in their view, cover in more depth
or maybe even new subjects to take on. And we get a fair number
of letters that talk about the sports section and we know that
it's one of the more popular and most often consulted in the
book. And so I think it's worth the space that we give to it.
LAMB: You have the--you have here how the Declaration of Independence
was adopted. You have the actual Declaration of Independence, the
Mayflower Compact, and then a little section of Patrick Henry's speech
to the Virginia Convention. In addition to that, you have the signers
of the Declaration of Independence, the origin of the Constitution,
the Constitution of the United States. How long have these been in
there and did you add anything new yourself in this group?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Well, of course, the basic historic documents, the
Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, have been in The World
Almanac for a good long time. And I think deservedly so. I
think there'd be many occasions when a user might want to consult the
actual wording of the Declaration or the Constitution, perhaps even at
the present time. What does the Constitution exactly say about
impeachment and what are the grounds for impeachment? Well, you can
go to The World Almanac and look up the text and you'll find
LAMB: Who writes your biographies of US presidents?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Those have been written by the editorial
LAMB: On board. Your group?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Yes. Yes, and, of course, they're revised as
necessary and new ones added for each new president.
LAMB: Do you have any--you know how sensitive the history of a
president is. Do you have any rules as what people can say and can't
say when they write up a biography of a president?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Well, the rules for the presidential biographies
are really the same as the rules for everything that goes into
The World Almanac. We're trying to be, throughout the book, as
factual and as objective as possible. You know, we don't see it as
our role to put forth opinions or a particular point of view. I think
the great value of The World Almanac is that it can give people in one
place literally millions of facts. And so whatever the subject is
that they want to find out about, they can go to The World Almanac and
get a wealth of authoritative, objective facts and then they can use
that to draw their own conclusions and inform their own opinions.
LAMB: We have--and I don't know how successful this will be.
We put a bunch of the Millennium Fact Boxes on our still store we
call it, so we'll bring it up on the screen. And it's-- some of
the numbers are small, will be hard to see. The first one is farm
workers and many times you can see a trend. Why don't we put that up
if we can and we'll get a chance to see some of the others. Here it
is. You can see--do you know this particular one and
what's it show?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Sure. It shows the rather dramatic decline in the
percentage of the workforce in the United States that is engaged in
farming. Certainly if you go back to the 19th century, it was a
huge percentage relatively speaking. And today, I think it's
something on the order of only 2 percent of all the workers in the
United States who are still engaged in farming.
LAMB: It's actually 2.5 percent. That's what that last number is
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Mm-hmm. You know, reflecting the mechanization of
agriculture and the tremendous increase in efficiency yields per acre
are--are huge compared to what they used to be.
LAMB: The next one is women in the labor force and that one
shows--we'll see here in just a second. If we can bring these up a
little faster, we can get them on there. This shows--what you have
there is the white and the black columns, the white being men and the
black being women. What's that show?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Sure. Sure. And there you're seeing a significant
increase in the actual numbers of women who are in the workforce. And
the percentage of women--the percentage of the total workforce
that is female is much larger today than it used to be.
LAMB: There are 56 million women on--that last column there, which is
1990, and 68 million men. Now you stopped at 1990. What was the
reason for that?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: That would be the latest year for which we would
have authoritative statistics good for the comparison.
LAMB: And who do you rely on for your statistics and things like
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: We actually have hundreds and hundreds of different
sources that we rely on for our statistics. A great many of them are
agencies of the US government. Others include state and local
governments, the United Nations, other international organizations,
academic and research institutions, other non-profit foundations and,
in some cases, commercial businesses or--or compilers of authoritative
statistics in certain areas.
LAMB: What kind of rules do you have about what gets in there
eventually? And who has to pass on all this information?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Well, we--we're trying to maintain the goals of
accuracy, authority and objectivity. And so we're assessing the
sources of our information always against those goals. And wherever
possible, if we can compare information from two different
sources, we'll do that and hopefully we'll find a consensus and where
we don't, we try to get to the bottom of the discrepancy and...
LAMB: Are you challenged very often?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Well, I'll tell you. One of the challenges
is, even though the book has 1,000 pages, how do we cram the
information in? And I think we've gotten pretty adept at squeezing as
many facts as possible onto every page. And if we had another 1,000
pages, we'd put in loads more facts.
LAMB: Now where's the book printed?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: It's printed at a huge printing plant in a Buffalo,
New York, area on an incredibly large and incredibly high-speed press.
It's fascinating to watch. I really enjoyed the first visit I
made to that printing plant, because you can see literally thousands
of books coming off the press every hour. And the whole schedule for
printing and binding and distributing the book is extremely condensed.
We're trying to put the most up-to-date information possible into The
World Almanac. For example, in the 1999 edition, we include all the
results of the November elections of 1998, the results of all the
Senate races, House races, gubernatorial races, major mayoral races in
hundreds of cities. And this information, of course, was not
available until after Election Day. And yet, less than one week after
Election Day, printed, bound and cartoned books were already moving
out from the printing plant and getting distributed across the United
States so that the books would be available when the news was very
fresh and also be available for the holiday season. The World Almanac
is an extremely popular gift item at the holiday season.
LAMB: What percentage of your books sell at Christmas?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Oh, it must be easily half the books that
have sold by Christmas.
LAMB: How long do they stay in the bookstores?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: For a year. There's a new edition of The World
Almanac published every November and so the edition is on sale for the
full year and I think it can be a valuable purchase at any point
during the year. It's also a very popular graduation gift,
popular back-to-school gift. And I should also mention, by the way,
that for younger students, we publish a World Almanac for Kids. And
this follows The World Almanac format of covering a wide variety of
subjects and presenting factual information, both useful and fun. But
the whole presentation is geared to the reading level and the
interests and the school subjects of younger students. And so that's
a very nice gift item for someone who might find the reading level of
The World Almanac a little difficult.
LAMB: You said that you sell millions. When you have that first
printing of the book, how many do you usually print?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: We usually do it all in one printing.
LAMB: Oh, you do?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Yeah.
LAMB: How many hardback compared to softback?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: The hardcover is a pretty small percentage. The
vast majority of the print run is the paperback, although the hardback
offers a larger type size, so for people for whom that is important,
the hardback can be appealing. It's a very nice gift item.
LAMB: Let's look at some more lists of--this is newspapers and it
doesn't show on here the circulation numbers. It just shows the order
of which the most popular newspapers in sales in the United States.
You can see there the New York-based Wall Street Journal is number
one. It's 1.8--almost 1.8 million circulation. USA Today has 1.6;
The New York Times, 1,074,000; LA Times, 1,050,000; Washington Post
about 775,000; and then it goes on down the list. Where do you get
this kind of information?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: I believe it's the Audit Bureau of
Circulation is the compiler of newspaper circulation statistics
Or they may just do the magazine statistics.
LAMB: How do you decide whether a list like that--and you have the
top 100 newspapers in size in there. What goes in--who makes
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Right. Well, again, we're trying to cover as
many different areas as we can. Many people might be
interested to know or have occasion for a professional reason to
want to know what are the largest newspapers in the country and
what is their circulation. What are the largest magazines? What
is their circulation? We have that information as well.
And we do that for other kinds of media as well.
LAMB: You have--actually, in that section, you show that there are
10,380 radio stations and the top kind of radio station in the
country; 2,300 of them are country music stations and the kind of
business we're in--news talk, business and sports, there are 1,356
stations. It shows that the number of country stations is actually
going down. I'm trying to look here very quickly to see--and the
number of--actually, the number of religious stations, if I've got it
right, are going up. What do you personally find the most
interesting in the book? What do you look for every year?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Well, I'm a sports fan. I enjoy the sports section.
I'm kind of a news junkie and so especially enjoy those sections
of the book that cover current news. We do have a very detailed month
by month chronology of major news events of 1998 in the current
World Almanac. And that's events in all fields: national,
international, general interest topics. I think for people who are
interested in the arts and entertainment, they'll find a great deal of
information in The World Almanac, whether it's top-grossing films
of the latest year or of all time or, in our Noted Personalities
section, we have key biographical facts about thousands of
entertainers and other show business personalities. And we do the
same thing for prominent individuals in all walks of life, whether
it's art, architecture, science, literature, politics and government.
LAMB: Where did you grow up?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: The New York City area.
LAMB: Where exactly?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: In Queens, which is a borough of New York City.
LAMB: Where'd you go to college?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: City College of New York. My major there was
political science and I've been a follower of political and other
kinds of news ever since.
LAMB: Where did you go right out of college? What year did you
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Oh, my goodness. Now I have to show how old I am.
No, no, I graduated in 1967 and then went to law school for one year,
then was a teacher for a couple of years and then went into publishing
and have been in publishing ever since.
LAMB: Where were you working in publishing before you got to this
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: For most of my career at Macmillan Publishing
Company and for a good number of years I worked with Collier's
Encyclopedia, which was published by Macmillan, and then moved to The
LAMB: What have you in the last five years, yourself, changed in this
book? And who do you answer to? Who do you have to get permission to
do whatever you do from?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Well, everybody answers to someone in the
professional world and so naturally there's an executive of the
company to whom I report. But I think we've been continuing to
make enhancements to The World Almanac and I'm proud of some of those.
The photo section has been in the book for four or five years now.
That was a new edition for the first year that I was editor of The
World Almanac. I'm very pleased that we have increased the number of
pages in The World Almanac, as we did for the 1999 edition, to get
even more information in the book. And...
LAMB: What kind of new information is going in that you need the
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: We put in a good number of features that I think
are very useful to people. For example, in our consumer information
chapter, we added an article on the pros and cons of buying vs.
leasing a car. You know, it used to be when somebody went out to get
a new car, almost always the car was purchased, but that's not the
case anymore. Something on the order of 30 percent of new cars are
leased rather than bought today. And so it's an important decision
for a lot of people, and we tried to lay out in this article in The
World Almanac the factors that they might want to weigh, the
pros and cons of buying vs. leasing. I think it's a very helpful
In our education chapter in The World Almanac, we've had for a number
of years a very extensive directory of colleges and universities and
we give a lot of basic facts about each institution--the size of the
student body, the size of the faculty, the types of degrees offered,
the key information on costs, tuition, room, board, other fees. And I
don't think it's too surprising to many people that the cost of a
college education can be quite high these days. And so one of the new
features in the 1999 World Almanac is an article that presents an
overview of the variety of student loan and other aid programs that
are available to help pay for the cost of a college education. And
this is a fairly complex subject. There are number of different
programs with different eligibility criteria and the like. But I
think we've given people in this new article in The World Almanac a
good concise overview. And then we also give them sources to go to
for further information. Again, I think another valuable feature.
LAMB: Another one of the Millennium Fact Boxes is the high school
graduations and what's happened to those numbers over the years.
Again, those figures on the screen are really small, and I can go to
the page here. You can see, though, that over the years, a
significant percentage of--you know, a growing percentage of people
are graduating from high school. That last figure there from 1989 to
1990 is 74.2 percent per 100 of 17-year-olds graduate from high
school. Back in the actually, 1909, there was--the percentage was
8.8, and it just keeps going up every year, except it was higher
In one year, '69 to '70. It was up as high as 76.9 and
it's dropped back down. Do you have any idea why?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: I'm not sure what caused that blip.
Obviously, the general trend has been to put greater priority--and I
think it's a good trend to put greater priority on more and more
formal education, whether it's the percentage of students graduating
from high school or the percentage graduating from college, which is
also on the increase.
LAMB: We have a chart here of US foreign-born populations. This is
one of the charts in the book, and you can see there from way back
in 1900 up to 19--I believe it's '97, that there's been a--there was a
big dip there, down as low as almost 4.8 percent back in about--looks
like--I can't see from--I have to check on the date here. Any
idea as to what happened there?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Well, of course, early in the 20th century and,
I guess, starting in the late 19th century, there was a huge wave of
immigration, a lot of it from Southern Europe and Eastern Europe,
including my own grandparents, by the way.
LAMB: Where are they from?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: From Italy. And then following that, I know there
were some changes in the US immigration law and it became more
difficult for immigrants to come to the United States. You would
also--around the middle of the century, you'd have a dip around the
time of World War II when there was not the ability for people to move
LAMB: Yeah. The high year was 1910, when there was 14.7 percent of
the US population was foreign-born, and the lowest year was 1970,
which you really couldn't see that clearly, was 4.8 percent. It's now
back up to 9.7 percent.
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Yeah. Yeah. Now on the increase again.
LAMB: Who uses the almanac for kind of an official statistical
publication? Anybody that you know of that this is where
they go for all their--now you say it's not used for wagers, so you
don't stand by it for wagers.
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Well, we don't--we don't want to get involved in
deciding wagers, but I like to think it's the
authoritative source that anybody could use to get an accurate,
up-to-date answer to any kind of question that they have.
LAMB: You've got a lot of endorsements up front in the book
including people like David Brinkley and Walter Cronkite and
Jimmy Carter. Jimmy Carter says, `As a private citizen, governor and
president, I have depended on The World Almanac for precise and
accurate information and for entertainment.' How'd you get that?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Well, that was something that he
had written, and obviously, it's a statement that we're quite
proud of. And the entertainment part is certainly as true
as the information part. The World Almanac can be just fun to browse
through. I think you can open to almost any page in The World
Almanac and--and you're gonna find something intriguing there, whether
it's one of the most popular colors among new car buyers today or a
special feature in The 1999 World Almanac is what are the most popular
baby names, and we actually show the most popular baby names today and
for every decade of the 20th century. And so you can see how much
different names have gone in and out of fashion. For example, among
girls' names early in the century, I believe Mary was the most
popular name, and today it's not even among the top 10, and the most
popular girl's name today is Ashley.
LAMB: You also have something-a little section called College
Freshmen Attitudes 1997, and the source is the American Freshmen
National Norms for Fall of 1997. You have any idea what the American
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: I believe that's affiliated with the University of
Michigan, and they do an authoritative survey of college students.
LAMB: Well, they say here the percentage of students describing
themselves politically as middle of the road rose to 54.8 percent in
1997 from 52.7 percent in 1996. Those identifying themselves as
conservative or far right fell to 20.8 percent from 22.7 percent. The
percentage of students who consider themselves liberal or far left was
virtually unchanged at 24.4 percent. A record low--and this is what I
want to ask you about. A record low of 26.7 percent felt that keeping
up to date with political affairs is as important or--is important or
essential, down from a high of 57.8 percent in 1966; 26.7 percent
thought it was important to stay up to date on what's going on
compared with 57 percent, almost 30 points lower. Why, do you think?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Yeah. That's an unfortunate trend, really,
because I believe that staying informed is really essential for
someone to be a responsible citizen today. I know voter
participation is also down in general and is particularly low among
younger potential voters. And it's a trend I'm sorry to see.
You know, certainly the late 1960s was a time of great political
activism and particularly a time of great political activism by
younger people, college students and other people around that
LAMB: Another Millennium Fact Box that you have has to do with the
number of people in a household, and one of the things you
can't find in your book is your trends, and it's very clear what the
trend is here. Again, these numbers are small, but you go back to the
year 1850, there were 5.55 persons on average per household, and it's
continued to go down steadily since then to the last year on the chart
here, which is 1997, where there are 2.64 persons per household.
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Sure. Well, I think the average family
Is having fewer children than has historically been the case. I
think households are less likely than in the past to include extended
families. The number of households today that includes one parent
rather than two is higher than it's been in the past. So there are a
variety of trends that come together to make that household size be at
a historic low.
LAMB: In the very beginning of the book, you have a special section
called The Coming Millennium and there's a part of it's headed
Today's Dreams, Tomorrow's Realities: Science In the New Millennium,
by Sally K. Ride. What was--who is she and why did you decide to ask
her to do this? It's a fairly long piece.
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Yeah, but an interesting one, I believe.
Sally Ride is a former astronaut. She was the first woman to fly on
the space shuttle and she's currently a professor of physics at the
University of California, and so we thought it would be really quite
interesting to ask her, as part of our special features related to
the millennium, to give us some predictions on how she thought science
and technology would continue to change our lives in the next
millennium--it obviously has in the current one. And I think she
had some intriguing and some fun predictions that she included in her
article. In the area of space travel, she has predicted colonies on
the moon, manned space flights to Mars, and also for vacationers, the
prospect that people might be able to take cruise satellites the way
they take cruise ships today, and so a vacationer in the 21st century,
perhaps instead of cruising three or four Caribbean islands, could
board a cruise satellite to three or four orbits of the Earth and
return presumably well-fed. So that sounds like a fun trip.
LAMB: The next article you have is Can America Predict Its Future?
It's Eric Foner, a Columbia University historian. Why did you pick
him to write this piece?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Again, a very well-known, very respected historian,
and we wanted his views on the ability to look into the next century
and predict geopolitical events. And I think it's--his basic
conclusion is that it's not easy because such predictions are
almost inevitably a product of our current experience and our
history. It's very hard in making predictions to not be bound
and influenced by what you know today and what has gone on in the
LAMB: You have a section called Entertainers of the Past, Noted
Personalities, and you have just Noted Personalities, Military and
Naval Leaders. Do you have people that lobby you to get their names
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: You know, sometimes we do. We get
letters from people who feel they should be included, and we get a lot
of letters from just average readers who say, `Gee, my favorite movie
star is so-and-so, and I think you should add him or her to your
list of entertainment personalities.' And we actually do add to that
list all the time. We add to it every year and make sure that we're
always up on the latest new stars who are becoming prominent.
LAMB: What's your reaction when somebody asks you to include their
name and they're not in here? Do you ever do it?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Sometimes we do, 'cause our reaction to that
is really the same as our reaction to any kind of an incoming
letter that talks about specific facts or information in the book.
We take the suggestion seriously and we'll do some research on it,
and if this seems like a legitimate addition, we'll make it.
LAMB: You have a World History section. It starts with Prehistory:
Our Ancestors Emerge, revised by Susan--Is it Skomal?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Right.
LAMB: ...who is an editor of Anthropology Newsletter, the American
Anthropological Association, and I think she's done more than one
thing in here. How did you pick her to do this?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Again, because of her expertise in the subject area,
and this is a chapter of The World Almanac, the World History
section, where somebody might think, `Oh, it must be the same every
year. What could possibly change?'--you know, until you get to the
most recent years--`What could possibly change? History is history.'
But that's not the case, because there is constantly new research
being done and new information being uncovered, whether it's
manuscripts first coming to light or archaeological discoveries, and
so even a section of The World Almanac like World History is
definitely not static. We periodically will get an expert review of
the chapter, and we are following news events ourselves, and we'll
make revisions and do make revisions with some regularity to
make sure that everything in that chapter reflects the latest
LAMB: How long--and it says on the cover of this, The Number One
New York Times Best Seller. What are you referring to there? Because
obviously, this book is--when it came out, had that cover on it.
You know what I'm talking about right here?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Right.
LAMB: What's that refer to?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Yeah. Well, each edition of The World Almanac is a
best-seller when it's published, and it has held the number one
position on The New York Times Best Seller List, and it's also on
other best-seller lists, whether it's USA Today, Publishers Weekly, a
leading trade magazine.
LAMB: How long does it usually stay there?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: It'll stay on the best-seller lists for a couple of
LAMB: Now PRIMEDIA...
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Yes.
LAMB: ...is owned by what group?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: It's a public company, and it's a very large
magazine publisher and a very large publisher as well of educational
LAMB: What are some of the other things, the other magazines that we
might've heard of?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: In the area of consumer magazines, New York Magazine
is published by PRIMEDIA. A great many of professional and trade
magazines and special interest magazines are published by PRIMEDIA.
Another example of an educational publication is Weekly Reader, you
know, which has been a mainstay in schools for decades and still
LAMB: Is the entire company located in Mahwah, New Jersey?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: No, it's actually quite spread out
geographically. The corporate headquarters is in New York City and
different divisions are located all over the country.
LAMB: We have some more Millennium Fact Boxes, as you call them, and
this one is Voter Turnout in Presidential Elections, 1932 to
1996. Again, the numbers are very small there. Let me see if I can
get to the actual page, which shows that--yeah, 492--voter turnout.
Can you see that all right? Yeah. It goes to the back in 1932,
the percentage participation of voting age population was 52.4
percent. The highest year in that whole area there is 1960, when it
was 62.8 percent, and then the lowest was the last election in 1996,
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Yeah.
LAMB: You say you get your information from the Federal Election
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Yeah. And again, it's a documenting of an
increase in apathy and perhaps some degree of alienation on the
part of the public and potential voting public.
LAMB: As you know, I've got a couple of your competitors'
publications here in paperback. This one is The Wall Street Journal
Almanac 1999, another one I've got is the Time Magazine Almanac 1999,
and then The New York Times has one that I've seen in the stores.
When did they all come up with this idea?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Yeah. Different ones have been published for
different lengths of time. None of them has been published nearly as
long as The World Almanac. We have the longest history and I
believe, of all of the almanacs. I'm pleased to say that The
World Almanac has the most information in it and the most up-to-date
information in it, and we work very hard to put as much utility into
the book as possible, and I believe we're successful at it.
LAMB: When these competitors came - and have some of them just
come on the last couple of years?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: New York Times and Wall Street Journal are fairly
new. What's now the Time Almanac has been the Information Please
Almanac, so that's been published for a little longer period of
LAMB: Now the more competitors you get, do your sales go up or do
they take away from your sales by being out there?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Our sales have actually gone up, and I'd like
to think that the excellence of what we put into the book has
something to do with that.
LAMB: Do you go through your competitors to see what
they've done differently or do you find them copying from you?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Well, I--you know, we were there first and
have the longest history, and so obviously we didn't copy
from anybody else in putting this information together.
Naturally, when the other books come out, we take a look at them
And see what they've included and how.
LAMB: Why do you include in your book--and I noticed some of the
others do too--the flags of the world, all the countries?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Well, I think a lot of people are interested in
that, and I think that's also a very useful feature for students who
very often need to get an image of a flag, learn the colors of
certain flags for a school project.
LAMB: Does somebody do this for you or do you have to do it yourself?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: We work with a leading cartographic company which
prepares the flag and the map section, and we do have maps that
include every country in the world, and those maps are updated every
year for The World Almanac so that they always include the latest
changes in country boundaries, country names. The 1990s has been a
really active decade for maps changing, whether it's the Soviet Union
breaking up into 15 countries or Yugoslavia breaking up into six, or
Czechoslovakia is now two countries, Slovakia and the Czech Republic,
what used to be Zaire is now the Congo again. And so there's been a
lot of map revision every year in The World Almanac map section.
LAMB: Can you think of, in the five years you've been there, a
mistake that you made or the biggest mistake that might have been made
that you had to correct?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Well, I'm pleased to say that the biggest or
maybe the most embarrassing mistake in The World Almanac that I've
heard about is one that, thank goodness, happened before my time. I'm
told that one year on the title page of the book, the word `almanac'
was spelled wrong, and thank goodness I was not the editor when that
LAMB: How do you check it now? In other words, you have the six
people working there. Who's the last--you know, the--before this goes
to the press, who looks over all this?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Well, of course, everything is looked over by
several people, because it always helps to have different eyes looking
at the same material. And in addition to the in-house editorial
staff, we have various proofreaders who work for us and proof all the
numbers and all the words. And in addition to that proofreading,
there's review by the editors themselves, and easily five
different people are looking at every page before it goes into
LAMB: What's your system of deciding when new things go in the
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Well, it's something we're thinking about all the
time. We have editorial meetings all the time. Everybody on
staff is a news junkie and is always reading a large number of
newspapers, magazines, of course getting information from the
electronic media as well. And so I'd like to think that we're pretty
up on--on events and trends, and that gets reflected in the book.
For example, if you go back, say, 20 years and look in The World
Almanac, you won't find a separate chapter on computers and you
probably won't find the word `Internet' at all. But today there's a
major chapter in the book, The Internet and Computers, and there's a
history of how the Internet evolved. There's a very useful glossary
of computer and Internet terms. There's a chart of some fun
smileys that people can use in their e-mail messages. There's a
directory of very useful Web sites, both information Web sites and
some just for fun. And so this is a case, one of many, where the
contents of The World Almanac just keeps changing and evolving over
time to reflect what's going on in society and in the world.
LAMB: Can you buy the almanac on a CD-ROM?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: It's included in a number of online information
services, some of them geared mostly to consumers using them at home,
and then some of them are information services that schools and
libraries will subscribe to.
LAMB: So you can't actually just go to a store and buy it?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: No. There's not currently a CD-ROM that contains
the text of The World Almanac on it.
LAMB: Any reason for that, why you don't do that?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Well, you know, The World Almanac works so well as a
book, and I don't mean to sound anti-technology at all, because I'm
not. I use the Internet all the time myself, and sometimes I seem to
be glued to my computer. But The World Almanac works beautifully as a
book, even in the computer age, because there's so much information
all in one place, and it's so accessible and easy to find that if you
want a fact or you want the answer to a question, you can pick up the
book and you'll get your answer much faster than booting up your
computer. And, of course, there's a lot of information on the
Internet and then lots of Web sites that one can consult, but it also
can be time-consuming finding the right Web site for each particular
subject. Plus, there's the issue of evaluating how objective, how
reliable is this particular Web site and...
LAMB: Do you take surveys to find out what people like and what's the
most popular part of the book?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Yes. We do take surveys of that kind from time
to time and, in fact, we're doing that with the 1999 edition of
The World Almanac, and those results are starting to come in, and
we'll be looking at them...
LAMB: What are you learning?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: ...and using that information to
maybe make some revisions for next year's edition and other future
editions. Again, what are the subject areas that people are most
interested in? What are the areas where they'd like to see even more
information than we currently have?
LAMB: Any new things that you're finding out that you're
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Well, we don't really have the results of the
survey yet, so I can't talk to what it's showing us. But
we'll certainly be quite interested in what it shows, and we
always want to be a high utility book for our readers, and so we want
to know what they're most interested in getting information about.
LAMB: If you go back to the Arthur Schlesinger list of the 10 most
influential people of the second millennium, anybody you'd put on that
list besides Shakespeare, Newton, Darwin, Copernicus, Galileo,
Einstein, Columbus, Lincoln, Gutenberg and Harvey?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Well, I certainly wouldn't take Gutenberg off. You
know, anybody in the book business is very fond of the inventor
of movable type. But, of course, there are other names
that could be on people's top 10 lists. Should Leonardo da
Vinci be on the list, for example, whether it's--it's for his
influence on art or his creativity as a scientist? There are any
number of people who might be on the list. Should George
Washington be on the list, or Benjamin Franklin or Thomas
LAMB: Why did you use the Modern Library's list of the 100 most
important novels of non--or fiction books of the--I don't know
whether it was all-time or the century.
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Yeah. I believe that was their list of the
greatest books published in English in the 20th century, and it
was a list that got a lot of attention when it was published. Some
controversy, as we've discussed, with any list of this type. There's
room for people to disagree and come up with their own alternate
suggestions. But we thought that a lot of people would like to
have the list there and be able to consult it and refresh their
memory as to what the selection was, and then be able to use that as a
starting point and think about `Where do I agree? Where do I
LAMB: You have the 100 best American movies and the source there is
the American Film Institute.
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Mm-hmm. A similar line of reasoning. It's--it's a
subject a lot of people are interested in. That particular list got a
lot of attention when it came out. Again, a lot of commentary.
Should this film have been on the list or not been on the list? Or
should this one be higher? Should that one be lower? So it's
another one of those features that somebody could just have fun with.
LAMB: Do you have a family?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Yes, I do.
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Yes, yes. I have a daughter who's 15 now.
LAMB: Doe she read The World Almanac?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Yes. I'm pleased to say she uses The World Almanac
all the time. She used to use The World Almanac for Kids, which she's
outgrown it and graduated to the regular World Almanac.
LAMB: And on a yearly basis, is there any one group that buys this in
bulk more than somebody else?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Well, I think just about every library in the
country and virtually every school in the country will buy The World
Almanac every year, and there are millions of people who will just buy
it every year to keep at home because they want to have the most
current information. Journalists--a great many journalists will buy
it every year.
LAMB: Why did you get into political science in the first place when
you went to City College--or City University, I guess you said?
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Yeah. City College of the City University of New
York. Who's to say why someone finds a certain subject area
interesting? But I just always did.
LAMB: Here's what the book looks like. Our guest has been the
editorial director of The World Almanac and the Book of Facts 1999,
Robert Famighetti. Thank you very much for joining us.
Mr. FAMIGHETTI: Oh, my pleasure to talk with you.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 2004. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.