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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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"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover,"" illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Pre-order today
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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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In the past, historical research was a long and arduous process:
- Wading through mountains of dusty old tomes, for weeks on end, in the darkest corner of a forgotten library.
- Taking copious notes, with a view to summarizing your findings, and to help with sorting out the often conflicting opinions in your source material.
- Comparing your thoughts with the publications of others, preferably in the comfort of your own library, ably assisted by the odd glass of claret.
- Discussing your findings with your peers, in frightfully erudite conversations over dinner (and yet more claret)
- After many years of editing, revisions and peer review, publishing a small leather-bound volume which might bring great pleasure to a small group of discerning readers.
Actually, that sounds rather appealing, but I digress.....
That was then. This is now.
When research is a click away, it's easy to knock together a quick pot-boiler in less time than it takes to say 'I'm not making this up' (a phrase used to great comedic effect by Dave Barry, and to excess by the authors of this book). Of course, there's nothing to be gained by producing an actual history book, since the target audience doesn't have the attention span to read one; the generations who have been conditioned by commercial television and the Web are incapable of holding a single thought for more than the intervals between commercials, and tend to doze off unless they can see at least three or four topics displayed in parallel (so that they can conveniently skip from one to t'other as their interest fades).
So let's revisit the process of historical research, web-style. I've tried to avoid the use of trade-marks, so you'll have to fill them in by yourself.
- Pop into your local <coffee house> and <search engine> for date ranges or key people (Herostratus, for example). You may need to spend some time looking at <online encyclopedia> for a consensus of opinion.
- In recent history, concentrate on America, since your target audience doesn't know or care about anywhere else.
- Extract the sections which look amusing (or at least interesting). No need to make judgements about accuracy - someone else has already done this.
- Compose an essay on the source material, in your own, wacky irreverant style.
- Hack the result together into a publishable form. If any sections are too small (or irrelevant) to merit a separate chapter, put them into sidebars. It's kinda like the paper equivalent of popups, right?
- Bundle it all together, and chuck it out into paper book land.
- If it works - cool. If not - books are obsolete, right?
I have nothing against the idea that history should be presented in a light-hearted way: Sellars and Yeatman's epic work 1066 and All That (including 103 Good Things, 5 Bad Kings and 2 Genuine Dates) will never be bettered. The fact remains that the book under review is a pretty lightweight offering, and in many respects highly irritating.
Some. I made it all the way to the end, so it can't be at all bad:
- If you want to read this book all the way to the end, take it on a cross-country flight, via some Mid-West airport, in Winter. It will help pass those long hours waiting for a departure time, and may even bring solace when the connecting flight is finally cancelled.
- This is an ideal book to leave in your toilet, so that it can provide diversion to costive visitors. It joins a distinguished company, including Barry, Brewer and Bierce, among others.
- It may encourage you to read an actual History book. I assume that this was why the book was written (apart form the usual monetary considerations)
And to sum up, for the sound-byte generation:
The book is divided into twelve chapters (not including an Appendix about Canada) and covers the history of humankind from 60,000 B.C. to 2008 A.D. The chapters are as follow:
1. Africa and After (60,000 B.C. - 1500 B.C.)
2. Chaos and Control (1500 B.C. - 500 B.C.)
3. Athens, Alexander, and All That (500 B.C. - 0)
4. There's No Place Like Rome (Except China, Persia, India, Mexico, and Peru) (1-500)
5. The Not-Really-That-Dark (Unless You Lived in Europe) Ages (500-1000)
6. The Fair-to-Middlin' Ages (Even If You Lived in Europe) (1000-1300)
7. Renaissance, Anyone? (And How About Genocide and Slavery?) (1300-1575)
8. War and Slavery (and, uh, Enlightenment) (1575-1750)
9. The Age of Liberation, Fragmentation, Stagnation (and Plain ol'Nations) (1750-1900)
10. The Empires Strike Out (1900-1930)
11. To the Brink of the Abyss (1931-1962)
12. One World (1962-2007)
Each chapter begins with a brief introduction entitled "In a Nutshell." This is followed by a timeline of the major events of the period the chapter deals with entitled "What Happened When." World events are discussed in "Spinning the Globe." That section is followed by "Who's Up, Who's Down" that discusses the groups, races, nations, people, individuals, etc. that are doing well and aren't doing well. The next section in each chapter is "So Long and Thanks for All The..." that examines inventions of importance during the age. "...And Thanks, But No Thanks For..." looks at trends, inventions, fads, etc. that probably weren't very good ideas. Each chapter ends with a section called "By the Numbers" that looks at a variety of statistics from the period that helps put things into perspective. Throughout each chapter there are numerous sidebars that provide more information about a person, nation, invention, etc. of that period. Also, some chapters have their own sections unique in and of themselves, such as the section about famous enlightenment scientists and philosophers in chapter 8.
I really enjoyed THE MENTAL FLOSS HISTORY OF THE WORLD. I particularly enjoyed the subject matter and the format. World history books tend to be centered towards a certain race or nationality at the exclusion of other races, nationalities, and ethnicities. This book attempts to provide a truly global scale. For example, in the chapter that talks about the Renaissance, the book also talks about what's happening with the Aztecs and Incas in South America, what the Chinese are up to, the rise of Babar in India, and the rise of the Ottoman Empire. Other chapters also discuss about what's going in North America, Africa, and Australia. There are some chapters that cover all these regions. The history isn't exhaustive, but it is global, entertaining, and informative.
I also really enjoyed the format. I read this book over a period of several years. I was only able to do this by reading bits and pieces at a time. It's not that THE MENTAL FLOSS HISTORY OF THE WORLD is incredibly long, because at around 400 pages, it's not. The format of the book just makes it easy to read in short chunks at a time or you could probably read the entire thing over a couple of days. Either way, you're going to learn something new and have a fun read. There are some books that you can't read that way: they either have to be digested slowly or taken in a short period of time.
Overall, I really enjoyed THE MENTAL FLOSS HISTORY OF THE WORLD and look forward to reading another title edited by the company. Recommended for anyone who enjoys world history or who likes trivia.