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An Underground Education: The Unauthorized and Outrageous Supplement to Everything You Thought You Knew out Art, Sex, Business, Crime, Science, Medicine, and Other Fields of Human Paperback – April 20, 1999

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; 1st Anchor Books Ed edition (April 20, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385483767
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385483766
  • Product Dimensions: 7.3 x 0.9 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (97 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #102,464 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Forget the history you were taught in school; Richard Zacks's version is crueler and funnier than anything you might have learned in seventh-grade civics--and much more of a gross-out, too. Described on the book jacket as an "autodidact extraordinaire," Zacks is also the author of History Laid Bare, making him something of an expert guide through history's back alleys and side streets. There's no fact too seamy or perverse for Zacks to drag out into the light of day, from matters scatological and sexual to some of history's most truly bizarre episodes. Curious about ancient nose-blowing etiquette? What about the sexual proclivities of Catherine the Great? Throughout chapters such as "The Evolution of Underwear" and "Dentistry Before Novocaine," Zacks proves a tireless debunker of popular myths as well as a muckraker par excellence. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


Astonishing facts!

Bizarre photographs!

Fascinating & sometimes deeply weird true stories!

Just a small taste of the intellectual smorgasbord contained in this volume.

Did you know:

that in the original story of Goldilocks the bears torture and kill their impolite visitor?
that Pope Leo XIII appeared in an advertisement for cocaine-laced wine in the 1880s?
that people didn't eat with forks until the 1700s?
that Sir Isaac Newton's famous humble-pie quote "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants" was actually written to a dwarf scientist named Robert Hooke and clearly meant as an insult?
that Thomas Edison secretly helped develop the electric chair in a scheme to have the lethal machine named after his arch-rival, George Westinghouse?
that the first pediatric guide written in the United States recommended that expectant mothers breastfeed puppies?
that for two centuries French scientists obsessively experimented on freshly decapitated heads in an effort to discover whether the bodiless brain still functioned?
that Cleopatra was ugly as sin?

From the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

Entertaining, easy to read, and full of lots of fun, useless information!
Tabitha Miller
This book is not a deep educational study of history, but a book filled with interesting bits of historical information, OR funny facts & trivia!
Sure, I knew some of this stuff - but it was worthwhile seeing it again just to have the chance to read the rest of the book.
Carol Collins

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

108 of 113 people found the following review helpful By Charles Tatum on January 21, 2004
Format: Paperback
You must think you are the cat's patoot, so sure you know everything. You paid attention in class, got good grades, and everything Mr. or Mrs. Insert Teacher's Name Here said was true because they had a college degree and the bravery to stand in front of a bunch of slack jawed kids and try to teach them something. Well, have I got the book for you.
Richard Zacks explodes our often mythic look at the world. This is not just another "your teacher lied to you in school" book. Zacks backs up his own history with actual primary source documentation. As he writes, "I started muttering, 'You can't make this stuff up!'."
Zacks has divided the book into ten different sections: Arts & Literature, Business, Crime & Punishment, Everyday Life, Medicine, Religion, Science, Sex, World History, and American History. While each section can be read separately, it may be hard to put down the book after just one helping. Zacks covers a wide range of topics, but always keeps his writing simple and unpedestrian. You quickly realize that all of these icons in history were actually people just like you and me. Mata Hari was no genius spy, her mug shot taken before her execution shows a plain woman in her early forties.
William Shakespeare used to write down to his common audiences, letting loose with filthy puns lost on today's students. Mark Twain and Benjamin Franklin, two of America's greatest humorists, both worked blue, writing material that you will not see in copies of "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" or "Poor Richard's Almanack." You think Iraqi war profiteering is something new? Pity the poor soldiers of the Civil War, eating rancid meat and trying to fight with ancient weaponry all sold to the United States government by greedy business tycoons.
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32 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Juniperwoman on January 19, 2005
Format: Paperback
... be warned. If you're like me, you've read the reviews and you can think of half a dozen people who you should buy "An Underground Education" for as a present. How perfect it will be for your boss, and your brother, and your dad/

Well, maybe not Dad. I had intended this to be a Christmas present for my father, but when I received my copy, I realized that there was a problem. "An Underground Education" is littered with photographs, and while that sounds good, there are castrated men (full frontal), lots of early porn, and all sorts of other fascinating and freaky things. It's all very interesting, except that I cannot even begin to imagine giving it to my father...

It's still a good read, though, and I highly recommend it. Just not as a gift for ol' Dad.
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58 of 70 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 13, 2000
Format: Paperback
An Underground Education has an admirable premise: fill us in on, or disabuse the reader of, various myths, misconceptions, suppressed facts, the "Arcana Mundi." And indeed, Richard Zachs does this with some skill, energy and wit. However, the information contained in the book, despite being divided by topics such as politics, art, and of course, sex, is too brief: By trying to touch on just about everything under the sun (or should I write, hiding in the shadows?) in the less-pristine history of humanity, the author falls prey to his own dislike of ignorance, dogmatic teaching, and general ineptness among supposed scholars and luminaries.
For example, in his discussion of the long-toed shoes, or poulaines, which he rightly places after his juicily giddy discussion of codpieces, he fails to explore the equally juicy history of the poulaines; European folk beliefs equated foot-fize with penis-size (think also of noses...) and the tips of the poulaines were thus phallic symbols. The tops of poulaines were also often painted with images of male genitals.
The author also fails completely to discuss (was he even aware) the female-analogue of the codpiece: the merkin, or a wig for the pubes...One has to dig for this sort of information. To look at the bibliography, the author consults with, at most, two or three sources when writing his entries. In effect, he has done little of his own research, despite crowing about his own linguistic abilities. Ovid's Ars Amatoria surely belongs somewhere in this book; sadly, Latin is not listed as one of the author's mastered languages. There are good translations, to be sure.
Another example: Mr.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 4, 2003
Format: Paperback
I am a reader. I'll read anything once. That doesnt mean I'll alawys like it though. THis book was great!
Zacks investigatges obscure tidbits from history, science, art, etc; and writes a very imforative book. THe nice thing is he tells you all his sources for information in the back, so if you do not believe him you can check it out.
Now normally, one would assume that a book of facts would be boring. This is not the case! Its really funny. He writes as if he's your uncle Larry telling you a funny ancedote at the dinner table. It is a hilarious, eye-opening book.
Some of the things he writes about are:
George Washington did not have wooden teeth....
And he was not the first president of the US...
Cleopatra was really ugly...
Edison and inventing the electric chair....
These are just a few of the ones that stuck out to me. THere are hundreds of these. The are written nice and short. This book is perfect if you want some light reading. It is very easy to just read a few blurbs (there might be 2 to a page average) or read a whole list of them. The book is also very organized and easy to find. If you are only intersted in science and nature, you can just turn to that section. If business, or art, or history, or sex, only intersts you, you can just turn to that.
The index is also very inclusive.
I do not think this book is good for children. There are some very racy topics. But they are done in a tasteful manner. A mature high schoool student could handle this, but I would not give it to a middle school or gradeschooler. Its not a dirty book but it does mention some controversial topics like sappho's sexual orientation and the presence of hermaphrodites in ancient greek art.
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More About the Author

Richard Zacks grew up in New York City, wandering to Times Square when it was still evil. His mother sought to refine his manners with white-glove dance lessons at the Pierre Hotel but that effort failed miserably. As a teenager, he gambled on the horses, played blackjack in illegal Manhattan card parlors and bought his first drink at age fifteen at the Plaza Hotel. He also attended elite schools such as Horace Mann ('73), University of Michigan ('79) and Columbia Journalism School ('81). He majored in Classical Greek and studied Arabic, Italian and French.
His whole life he has felt torn between the seedy and the high brow. He is a born contrarian. His books reflect that, with topics ranging from Joan of Arc's virginity tests to a vindication of Captain Kidd, from Edison's electric chair to Mark Twain's erotic writings. .
Zacks spent the decade of the 1980s as a journalist, writing a widely syndicated newspaper column, as well as freelance pieces for the likes of The Atlantic, Sports Illustrated, and he brings a who, what, when, where and an occasional why to his writing of historical narrative. The N.Y. Times, commenting on his first book, "History Laid Bare", stated that Zacks "specializes in the raunchy and perverse." That was two decades ago; he has perhaps evolved since then. His second book, "An Underground Education" became a cult hit; his third book "Pirate Hunter" has sold more than 175,000 copies and TIME magazine chose it among the five best non-fiction books of the year. Zacks has also appeared in four documentaries.
Tall, bald, spry, he still plays full court basketball at age fifty-six, and does his writing in an office, overlooking Union Square Park in Manhattan.