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The Mental Floss History of the World: An Irreverent Romp through Civilization's Best Bits Hardcover – October 28, 2008


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The Mental Floss History of the World: An Irreverent Romp through Civilization's Best Bits + The Mental Floss History of the United States: The (Almost) Complete and (Entirely) Entertaining Story of America + mental floss presents Forbidden Knowledge: A Wickedly Smart Guide to History's Naughtiest Bits
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; First Edition edition (October 28, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060784776
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060784775
  • Product Dimensions: 1.4 x 5.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (98 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #275,082 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

History is . . .
(a) more or less bunk.
(b) a nightmare from which I am trying to awaken.
(c) as thoroughly infected with lies as a street whore with syphilis.

Match your answers:
(1) Stephen Daedalus of James Joyce's Ulysses
(2) Henry Ford
(3) Arthur Schopenhauer

It turns out that answer need not be bunk, nightmarish, or diseased. In the hands of mental_floss, history's most interesting bits have been handpicked and roasted to perfection. Packed with little-known stories and outrageous—but accurate—facts, you'll laugh yourself smarter on this joyride through 60,000 years of human civilization. Remember: just because it's true, doesn't mean it's boring!

Exclusive: Amazonian Tips for Amazon.com

When you think of the word “Amazon,” we’re sure the first thing that comes to mind is the fantastic website where you can buy our book (buy our book!) or half-naked warrior women. But here are three tantalizing tidbits you might not know--and why you need to act now.

1. Find Gold
There’s something about long, tropical rivers that seems to drive people batty. But the Basque conquistador Lope de Aguirre was by all accounts a murderous sociopath long before he got to the Amazon. Take, for instance, the time a judge sentenced Aguirre to be flogged. The brutish Basque hunted the terrified magistrate across 4,000 miles of rough South American terrain, barefoot, to kill him! So, in 1560, it probably wasn’t the best idea to invite Aguirre along on the quest to find El Dorado, the legendary city of gold. After 900 miles of unbroken rain forest, Aguirre was fed up. He led a mutiny that killed more than half of his fellow conquistadors. Then, he declared himself prince of Peru, Tierra Firma, and Chile. Eventually he and his tiny army attacked Panama…where he was killed and dismembered so his body parts could be paraded around the colony.
The bright side: El Dorado is still out there, waiting for you to discover it! Just don’t bring a friend like Lope.

2. Invest a Dollar
When it’s not making people crazy, the Amazon seems to inspire bizarre, larger-than-life schemes. In 1967, American shipping magnate and billionaire Daniel Ludwig bought a larger-than-Connecticut sized chunk of the Amazon to create a gigantic industrial and agricultural complex called the Jari Project. It didn’t work out. All the construction led to massive soil erosion, screwing up the “agricultural” part of his plan. After sinking $1 billion into the project (back when $1 billion really meant something) Ludwig called it quits in 1982. It was eventually put up for sale for $1--a great deal, if you’re willing to assume $354 million in debt.
The bright side: For anyone with a dollar and a dream, it’s your lucky day: the Jari Project is still for sale!

3. Make New Friends
The pictures of spear-wielding tribesmen produced in May 2008 may have been a hoax, but it’s true that there are literally dozens of so-called “uncontacted” native tribes in the Amazon basin--Stone Age peoples who have never had any contact with the outside world! While this seems preposterous, it makes sense when you consider the Basin’s size, over 2.7 million square miles in area, half of which is covered by dense rain forest and divided by 15,000 rivers and tributaries. Altogether, there are believed to be about three dozen uncontacted tribes in Brazil and 15 in Peru.
The bright side: If you’re up for the adventure, you have more than 50 chances to claim fame and fortune. Just make sure you don’t accidentally give everyone smallpox.

… And so much more!
What you’ve just read isn’t available in our book, but don’t worry--roughly 82% of the rest of history is. Our twelve essential chapters tackle everything from civilization’s baby steps in the Fertile Crescent to the Pope’s first text message, the 6,000-pound super-wombats of early Australia to the Goose Crusade of 1096, the golden hemorrhoids of the Philistines to the most important assassinations of the 20th century, and everything else that’s wacky, entertaining, and completely, unbelievably true.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–Sass and Wiegand do an admirable job of covering 60,000 years of human history in one volume. Along with the names of people and places, the dates and statistics, the wars, disasters, revelations, and accomplishments, there are fascinating stories, hilarious oddities, and plenty of fun. Nearly every page has a sidebar entry or two that fit well with the general narrative and also provide a chuckle or a Wow, I didnt know that! reaction. In 12 chapters with titles such as Athens, Alexander, and All That and The Not-Really-That-Dark (Unless You Lived in Europe) Ages, the authors cover our collective story from the earliest Homo sapiens on the grasslands of Africa to the current debate on global warming. Each chapter begins with a helpful In a Nutshell summary and a chronology of major events and ends with a well-selected list of comparative statistics. While some may bemoan the lack of bibliographic references and other academic fixtures, others will cheer this clever packaging of a wealth of information.–Robert Saunderson, Berkeley Public Library, CA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Customer Reviews

I really enjoy reading the books produced by Mental Floss.
tvtv3
The history of the world is a very wide subject to try and cover in one book, but the authors do a nice job in breaking the topic down into manageable chapters.
Karen S. Garvin
If you're anything like me and you're a little too busy to read something from beginning to end in one sitting, this makes a nice compromise.
the kove

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Karen S. Garvin on October 24, 2008
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
As a fan of Mental Floss magazine, I hoped their book would bring some of the irreverent humor that the magazine is known for to the pages of history. I am not disappointed. The history of the world is a very wide subject to try and cover in one book, but the authors do a nice job in breaking the topic down into manageable chapters.

Chapters include some prehistory subject matter, ranging from the time our ancestors stood up to the time they started building cities and planting cereal crops. While written from an American perspective, the authors have tried to include South America, Africa, Australia, and China and the far east into the chapters to give the reader a good sense of what was going on in the world during a specific timeframe.

The text is fairly dense (there's a lot to read!) but it's sprinkled with shaded boxes with quotes and other related tidbits of information. One hilarious quote from King George III's diary reads "Nothing important happened today." Yeah, right.

Each chapter opens with "In a Nutshell," an overview of the era, and ends with a "By the Numbers" summary of factoids for history buffs. The book doesn't have to be read sequentially, so you can jump right into the Middle Ages or whatever time frame you are interested in. The book is aimed at adults but should be suitable for teens and pre-teens.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By the Peripatetic Gardener on November 2, 2008
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
'The Mental Floss History of the World' is aptly subtitled "An Irreverent romp through civilization's best bits." For a paperback book of almost 400 pages, it necessarily is quite selective as to what is included and the degree of detail pursued. However, it seems accurate in its facts, does have a particular axe to grind to any degree, and tries to be a true history of the world: not another European- or American-centered history which masquerades as a world history book. The Olmecs, the Chinese, the Hindus, and other peoples are woven into the story of the world. From my perspective, this latter point makes it a corrective to the often inadequate coverage of the historical developments in East Asia, Africa, and South America in the histories that I had been exposed to during my education..
Obviously, this was not intended as a textbook, but simply an interesting and readable compilation of major historical developments that an intelligent reader might enjoy if that person is able to reconcile wry humor and history. In offering this little book, the publishers of Mental Floss continue the pattern set in their magazine. The reader is able to find out the facts about vomitoriums, the origins of cold cream, when tamales emerged, and who were the first opium runners (the English!).
This little history is light reading; but strongly recommended for people who can look on the lighter side of things. Solemn folks who shudder at the poppies of humor emerging in the landscape of the heath of seriousness should look elsewhere. For example, the plural of Ottoman is 'Ottomans', not 'Ottomen,' chastity belts were nonexistent at the time of the Crusades, and peasants are described as "serfs without turf." It's things like this in this book that leave me wanting to say, like Oliver Twist, "Please, Sir.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By H. Sapiens on October 21, 2008
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I am a huge fan of Mental Floss, which is hilarious. In addition, I highly enjoy Mental Floss presents In the Beginning: From Big Hair to the Big Bang, mental_floss presents a Mouthwatering Guide to the Origins of Everything and mental floss presents Instant Knowledge (Collins Gem) (Collins Gem) both of which are excellent stocking stuffers.

On first note, the book is very, very dense. Lots of words without pretty pictures with lots of sidebars throughout. I am not sure that the book is meant to be read from front to back - and I have never read any of their books like that - rather pick and choose what topics you want to read. However, it is arranged in chapters. The little sidebars provide tantalizing extra bits of info - like how a fire was used by Nero to persecute a local cult - the Christians. As someone who enjoys random, tantalizing bits of knowledge, it definitely has lots of juicy historical tidbits that at least in my case I found very interesting. While it did have a few OMG sections, I did not find it witty or overtly funny.

I would not necessarily recommend this to anyone that is not a fan of Mental Floss without first checking it out on a bookshelf. However, for the fans of random facts and Mental Floss, it is a no-brainer - not their best, but definitely packed with information.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By the kove on October 23, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Yet another wonderful product from mental_floss. Admittedly, I've enjoyed the mental_floss brand for some time now. This book gives me no reason to think otherwise, as it packages lots of nifty facts into a quirky, fun, readable format. I can even get my kids to enjoy parts of it. As with the other products, what separates mental_floss from other educational mediums is its ability to make learning fun.

If you're anything like me and you're a little too busy to read something from beginning to end in one sitting, this makes a nice compromise. Actually, I flew threw a lot of it after a few train-rides into work, and now I'm only hoping to find another book to keep me occupied for the next few train rides.
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