Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Book Review: The Mental Floss History of the World: An Irreverent Romp through Civilization's Best Bits

Over the Christmas break, I had the good fortune to read The Mental Floss History of the World: An Irreverent Romp through Civilization's Best Bits. The book is by Erik Sass, Steve Wiegand, Will Pearson, and Mangesh Hattikudor. Although it has taken me several months to get into a reviewing mood, I really liked this book.

I guess this should not be a surprise to me. Two of my favorites sites on the Web (Weird Universe and News of the Weird) play on how strange and silly people often are. History is like that too. A book taking a light-hearted approach like that is bound to appeal to Dr. Miland Brown.

Here is the publisher's description of the book:

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!

By the way, the answers are (a) 2, (b) 1, and (c) 3.

Obviously, a book like this can not be comprehensive. The authors amusingly note, "Sadly, HarperCollins rejected our 500-million page manuscript as 'overenthusiastic' and 'hard on the back.' And while this version omits a few details, we think we did alright."

The book starts with pre-history and works up to the 21st Century. The book briefly summarizes major historical points (and absurdities) and provides telling numbers for each chapter. The prose is easy to read and just as you are about to take it too seriously satire is inserted that often hits close to some unfairness or illogic in the minds of our ancestors.

This tome attempts to be a multicultural history of the world. It does not cover just European or American tinted history which often pervades world history books. The Aztecs, the Japanese, the Muslims, and others are stitched effectively into the story of the world. From my perch, this makes this work a good complement to the inadequate coverage of the historical developments in other non-Western parts of the planet. However, it is not politically correct. Easily offended academics should skip this book. Don't worry, I doubt you were going to assign it as a class reading anyway.

If you like history and have a sense of humor, buy this book or get it from your local library. I think you will have a good time and learn a few new historical facts.


3rdStoneFromTheSun said...

very cool

you certainly have piqued my interest in this book

srishti said...

Steve Weigand is one person.