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The Mental Floss History of the United States: The (Almost) Complete and (Entirely) Entertaining Story of America Hardcover – October 5, 2010


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; First Edition edition (October 5, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061928224
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061928222
  • Product Dimensions: 1.3 x 5.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #87,938 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

“[M]anages to educate and entertain simultaneously, which is a win-win for everybody!” (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

“A cavalcade of delicious facts, surprising trivia and refreshingly honest, hilariously smart-alecky insight that finally sets the wayward historical record straight.” (AmericanProfile.com)

“[B]reezy, bullet-pointed and well illustrated.” (Financial Times)

From the Back Cover

Smarter than a history teacher, funnier than the Founding Fathers, and more American than Alaska, an almost (but not entirely) comprehensive primer on American history (or at least, the good stuff)

In trademark smart aleck style, this is history according to mental_floss, an insightfully accurate and incisively humorous exploration of little-known truths and widely believed falsehoods, which simultaneously exposes some of America's oddest moments, strangest citizens, most egregious frauds, and much, much more.

Ten meaty chapters, peppered with fun trivia, entertainingly cover the essential timeline of the social, political, and cultural happenings of American history and mythbust all the lies teachers told us along the way. Was Abraham Lincoln really a heroic defender of liberty and freedom? Were the Sixties actually a groovy time of peace and love? Has the U.S. always been dependent on foreign oil? mental_floss sets the record straight and shares the fascinating stories behind politics, literature, fashion, televangelism, serial killers, genetic engineering, Yuppies, SPAM, the original Swine Flu, potato chips, rollerskating, mobsters, rum, communists, beaver wars, the rise and fall of irony, and everything else made in the U.S.A.


More About the Author

Erik Sass is a journalist who covers the media business from his main base of operations in Los Angeles, with branch offices around the country. When not writing for mental_floss, he reports on magazines, newspapers, radio, and billboard advertising for MediaPost.com.

A shy, withdrawn child ("loser"), Erik spent many of his formative years reading about history. Ironically, the knowledge he acquired transformed him from mopey misfit to man-about-town; now much sought after for his historical anecdotes, he is considered an indispensable conversational ornament to any party attended by persons of substance.

A giver, Erik also works with mental_floss to share these benefits with others. In addition to the present volume, he was a contributing author for mental_floss presents: Forbidden Knowledge, and also writes about history for mental_floss magazine.

Erik has not vomited on the shoes of government officials or their spouses; however, he has vomited on his own shoes more than once.

Customer Reviews

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High school history students should read it too.
Biblioholic Beth
There is a lot that I learned in here that sadly I never learned in school but it's also done in a way that makes me want to keep reading and learn more.
Deborah
I found it to be a perfect bathroom book, with each section short enough to read in just a couple minutes.
Jonathan Strawn

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

51 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Bryan Newman VINE VOICE on August 25, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Well, one caveat for that approval, my wife the history teacher, was offended by the occasional headline "Lies my teacher told me." She would like to point out, teachers don't lie, textbooks lie and bad teachers repeat them. Apparently good teachers find textbooks from three different nations and then discuss the biases of each account.

But we both love this book. We are leery of myth-busting-pop-history- bathroom-reading type books because they often get too snarky or they twist and distort facts for entertainment's sake (or worse, for an agenda's sake.) So when my wife saw me reading this book, she immediately grabbed it out of my hands and flipped to her strongest historic subjects. Immediately she said "Aha, this isn't right!" followed by a little more reading and, "Well actually that is a pretty good description of how it happened." A half hour later she handed it back to me announcing "this is actually pretty good, let me know when you're done." (This is also where she pointed out that teachers don't lie.)

I've had a real hard time putting it down since I received it. The writing is humorous, occasionally chuckle out loud funny. Some of the humor comes from sarcasm and subtle jokes, but most of it comes simply from ironic historic truths. Life really is stranger than fiction some times.

As for the book's claim for near completeness, it is impressive. It covers a huge range of stories and keeps returning to subjects like fashion, religion, culture, economics, and of course politics through different periods of US history. From big to small it covers everything from King Phillip's War to hoop skirts to the invention of potato chips to things as obvious as World War II.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Jennifer VINE VOICE on August 31, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Mental Floss does it again! I have to admit that I am a HUGE Mental Floss Magazine enthusiast. I've been a subscriber for years and each and every magazine goes thru every family member before being brought to my office for everyone else to read. This book is even better for me as it is the History of the United States, another favorite of mine. I think the only way to describe this book to a first time Mental Floss reader is to say that it is complete truth wrapped in hysterical antedotes and clever statements. An example of this is an interesting fun fact about Alexander Grahm Bell; "Ironically, Bell came to hate the constant ringing of his own home telephone and banished it from his study so he could think in peace." Pretty cool, huh! This book covers the very early parts of America from the Vikings to the Puritans to Reagan, Rap and Rambo with a bit in between! It's full of real, truthful historical information. It reminds us of what our teachers told us in school and then gives us the truth in an easy, funny and completely accruate account of the facts. I also loved the last chapter filled with each president's biographys from Washington to Obama. Extremely interesting to read for everyone. Happy reading!
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Reading Junkie VINE VOICE on August 29, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Just finished this book, and it was pretty good. I noticed several errors in it, though (p. 100 in the "Dancing Shoes" section there's a series of symbols instead of words, and on p. 237. I thought it was "Nanking," not "Nanjing.") Also, to be nitpicky, please cut back on usage of the word "basically," It's an -ly adverb; using it too many times is a sign of weak writing.

There was no works cited page; I would think the authors have to mention the sources who provided the information used in the book. Maybe it'll be in the final edition.

The tone is a bit snarky, which I liked. I don't mean that in a bad way; it seems to me the authors assume people reading the book have a sense of humor, and that made this book both informative and lively.

It covers the gamut of American history, from 25,000 years ago to 2009.

I see this as a "bathroom book," one to peruse and flip through while taking care of nature's business. Again, that's not a derogatory comment. People use "Readers Digest" for the same reason.

And even though I'm pretty well-versed in history, I did learn some new facts (I was especially fascinated how FDR arranged to get all that Saudi Arabian oil in 1945; that I did not know).

A book that's entertaining and worth your time. I'm glad I flipped through it and learned something.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Mindy VINE VOICE on September 12, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I sheepishly admit that history is not my strong suit which is why I got this book; figured I'd brush the cobwebs from my brain and for that purpose, this book has been great. History has never been so interesting! I loved the little tid-bits of information that are trivial but fascinating. Did you know that words like "groovy" and "da bomb" go in a out of style but "cool" has been cool for 50 years? That the Spanish Flu started in America? I especially loved their condensed "Quick 'N' Easy Guide to Wold War I" which I found hilarious. (Am I the only one? I feel guilty laughing about a war...)

Obviously, with the nature of the book being quick snippets of information, there are things that were glossed over. September 11 got a little more than two pages, Katrina got only two and a half pages. I thought those could have been bigger sections but perhaps because they're so recent and I feel personally affected by these, I lend more importance to them? Obviously a massive amount of information will be left out if you're trying to cram the entire history of the United States between 400 pages speckled with clip art and graphs. That said, I thought their coverage of the wars were pretty good.

I found myself taking this book wherever I went (doctor's offices, my kid's swimming lessons) because it was easy to open to any ol' page and dive right in.

I learned a lot about history due to this book and enjoyed it immensely.
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