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It Seemed Like a Good Idea...: A Compendium Of Great Historical Fiascoes Paperback – February 8, 2000


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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

William R. Forstchen, author of several dozen books in the fields of science fiction, history, and historical fiction, resides in western North Carolina. He holds a Ph.D. in history from Purdue University and is a professor of history at Montreat College. His works include the coauthored, New York Times bestselling series Gettysburg, written with Newt Gingrich, the Lost Regiment series, and the award-winning We Look Like Men of War, a novel based on his doctoral dissertation about an African American regiment in the Civil War. He spends most summers in Mongolia, doing archaeological and historical research, and his current hobby is the restoration and flying of a replica P-51 Mustang fighter plane.



Bill Fawcett is the author and editor of more than a dozen books, including You Did What?, It Seemed Like a Good Idea . . . , How to Lose a Battle, and You Said What? He lives in Illinois.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

So many bad decisions, so few pages. When one studies history and has the advantage of 20/20 hindsight you are constantly amazed at the decisions made by otherwise very intelligent leaders. Stalin helped train the German Panzer Corps, Napoleon turned away Robert Fulton and his paddlewheelers, and the Kaiser's own spies actually smuggled Lenin into Russia to start his Bolshevik revolution. There are so many examples of seemingly irrational decisions that one sometimes has to wonder about the sanity of the decision maker and the many other equally possible courses history might have taken.

To be included in this volume the decisions had to meet a few qualifications. First they had to be seriously and unquestionably bad. Further, the decision had to be of some importance, affecting thousands, if not millions, of people. Generally we avoided using decisions made in file heat of battle. Too many can be explained by poor generalship or limited intelligence. Finally the decision, given the information at hand and the way things were done at the time, had to seem like a good idea, even the best of all possible options, but for some small fault in logic or unconsidered possible circumstance that would prove in the end catastrophic.

So enjoy a look at history's follies and feel superior to some of the past's greatest leaders. But occasionally stop and ask yourself which of the decisions being made today, the ones that seem our leaders' most rational, will be included in the 2099 edition of this book.

Bill Fawcett

 

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (February 8, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0380807718
  • ISBN-13: 978-0380807710
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,176,914 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

WILLIAM R. FORSTCHEN has a Ph.D. from Purdue University with specializations in Military History and the History of Technology. He is a Faculty Fellow and Professor of History at Montreat College. He is the author of over forty books, including the New York Times bestselling series Gettysburg and Pearl Harbor (coauthored with Newt Gingrich), as well as the award-winning young adult novel We Look Like Men of War. He has also authored numerous short stories and articles about military history and military technology. His interests include archaeological research on sites in Mongolia, and as a pilot he owns and flies an original World War II "recon bird." Dr. Forstchen resides near Asheville, North Carolina with his teenage daughter Meghan and their small pack of golden retreivers and yellow labs.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By P. M Simon on August 31, 2004
Format: Paperback
Historian/author William Forstchen brings us "It Seemed Like a Good Idea" as a quasi-humorous look at mistaken judgements throughout history. Each chapter is fairly short, and the chunks of history make for great "alternate history speculation" by scholars. However, this book is not fiction. It is also not serious history, as there is a lot more behind each story than Forstchen presents (for instance, "Big Guns" doesn't really point out that the Byzantine Empire was already doomed by a shrinking tax base, the sweeping tide of Islam, and the harm done to the Eastern Empire by the Latinate Dictatorship, the Crusades, etc.).

For serious history, with a readable, well-researched look at REALLY big blunders, the reader might want to move on to Barbara Tuchmann's "The March of Folly," a true classic. For alternate history, Forstchen's own novels are as good an entry point to the genre as any.

It Seemed Like a Good Idea is a hybrid and is sort of in limbo, but is well-written and engageing nonetheless. It's main failing is that it uses 20-20 hindsight and information not available to decision-makers at the time to cast them as idiots. Otherwise, it's a fine read, informative, and well worth your time.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Kelly Langston-Smith on December 13, 2003
Format: Paperback
I love and have read a number of books of this sort, and while not being a bad example of the short article fact book format, it did tend to get a little repetetive. The three to four page segments are written by different people so some of the pieces tend to overlap with the same information from one segment to the next. Also, I had read most of the "good idea turned bad" information in other books of this type (usually with more conciseness) so there weren't many surprises.
The reading is quick and light and fun, so if you aren't familiar with the "this is what REALLY happened" branch of literature, you may enjoy this quite a bit. Otherwise, I would suggest one stick with broader and more interesting works like "An Underground Education" by Richard Zacks which covers a number of the same points found in this work as well as branching out into many other arenas of human stupidity.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Dave S. on June 1, 2000
Format: Paperback
This is a very good easy read. History has been simplified, but this is a wonderful "bathroom book" or "travel book" because most sections aren't more than four or five pages. Don't read this if you want deep historical knowledge, but instead if you want educational easy reading or to know some interesting facts.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 16, 2000
Format: Paperback
This book was not only great to read and certainly isn't like history as taught as a dry list of dates and platitudes in too many schools. Nothing in great depth, but hundreds of historical events and facts I didn't know were given me in a way that made them enjoyable. Obviously the book historians create to when they want to have fun. I'd always wondered why the vikings never came back.
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Format: Paperback
This book was loaned to me yesterday by a friend of mine who occasionally lends me historical books for reading and review, and it is a book I read once before and may have even purchased as light travel reading. I am of two minds concerning this book, because there are two levels (at least) that this book can be read on. On the level of a casual and lighthearted read, it works very well. The historical disasters chosen here are generally fiascoes on a high level, sometimes involving centuries of trouble as a result of a blunder. The authors make a sensible call that they will not include mistakes made in the heat of battle where pressure and a lack of information interfere with decision making but will focus on those decisions made of a blundering nature involving political and diplomatic strategic thinking that erred at the highest level.

That said, although the book is extremely easy to read, and quite enjoyable to read, and often entertaining even if it has a particularly striking perspective, including a tendency to be critical of those leaders, like Philip of Macedon, Archduke Franz Ferdinand [2], and JFK, who sought to be close to the people and wound up being struck down by assassins as a result, it does not succeed very well as a serious historical work. This is due to the absence of historical citations as well as the presence of numerous errors of fact, especially with regards to dates. Clearly, this book is being marketed to a casual reader of popular history that is looking for edification about certain moral lessons about history, including a marked criticism of people generally thought to be wise, including General Rommel for his Western Wall, and not to an intensely critical audience of learned generalist historians, which is, admittedly, a small market anyway.
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This isn't the kind of history book that if you are looking to write a dissertation that one should reference, but "It Seemed Like A Good Idea" is good enough if you have an interest in history, or are trying to foster an interest in history in a teenager where very little or none exists. Actually, if schools would utilize books such as these in high middle (eighth grade) through high school, I believe that teachers would find their students much more interested in the rich pageant of history. William Forstchen and Bill Fawcett 's book doesn't focus on boring dates and dull recitations of facts, he lies bare the foibles of the historic figures in question with humor, and does an excellent job of making the leaders under study appear as they were in life, human- and for all their power, vulnerable in their mistakes by either lack of foresight, their ego, or the misfortune of placing their faith in someone undeserving. All in all this is a terrific book that as promised, gives a rudimentary insight into some of the greatest blunders in the history of mankind, and I'd suggest it to anyone who has an interest in history.
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