The Guinness World Records has its origins in a 1951 quarrel over the identity of the fastest game bird in Europe. Realizing there was no way to settle such questions, Hugh Beaver, Guinness Breweries’ managing director, commissioned the book.
In the age of the Internet, the Guinness book’s original purpose is an anachronism; one Google search tells us that the fastest European game bird is the wood pigeon. The Guinness has instead become a refuge for fame-seekers and inconsequential records. The new 2011 edition lists Stephen Parkes, who owns 1,061 Smurf collectibles, and Patrick Reilly, who received the most rejection letters—46 —from football clubs.
The Guinness book’s purpose has thus shifted from factual to literary— from recording facts to chronicling obscure human dramas. Why Parkes collects Smurf toys is, happily, not a question an Internet search can necessarily answer.