How I Found a Neat Story About an Island Nation Which Ran Out of Bird Poop

Today’s Now I Know is about a tiny island in the Pacific called Nauru. You should read it, here.

One of the questions I get most often about Now I Know is how I find all these stories. The answer is … long. I read a lot, people send me things, and I have a good eye for the obscure yet interesting things that I share (I hope), but that doesn’t really do the process — or lack thereof — justice. One story (this one) I learned about because it was summarized on the side of a truck I happened to see one day. 1 That’s an outlier, but you hopefully get the point.

Anyway, this Nauru one has a kind of but not really interesting back story. I follow Jeopoardy! champ Ken Jennings on Twitter. A few days ago, he tweeted out this:

I’m going to click that nearly 100% of the time, assuming I notice it (i.e. am looking at Twitter). I clicked, and the country is Nauru. 2 I skimmed the article (I even missed the part about the unemployment and obesity rates until now) but noticed the part about the bird guano. I went to Nauru’s Wikipedia entry, did some Googling for news articles, and came up with all the stuff you read about today.

You’ll note that I didn’t put in the fact that Nauru doesn’t have a capital. I left it out because it wasn’t really relevant to the story I was telling, and while it would have made for a decent bonus fact, the other one was better. At times, I’ll drop a “double bonus” into an email, and I considered it for this one, but I wanted to make sure I credited Ken Jennings for the tip, and figured this would be a good way to do it.


  1. Literally, I walked into traffic to read it. Here’s a picture which someone else took of a similar truck.
  2. There’s your bonus, bonus fact. Nauru has no official capital, and is the only country without one. That makes sense. It’s only 8 square miles, which is much less than Manhattan at 22 square miles. And Manhattan isn’t a country. It isn’t even a city! So how could it have a capital city?
Originally published on February 11, 2013