Saturday, January 24, 2009

the dumbest things you've never heard of

Title: Stupid History
Author: Leland Gregory
Other stuff on cover: Tales of stupidity, strangeness, and mythconceptions throughout the ages

Remember Weird Al? Remember his song "Everything You Know Is Wrong"?

This is like the book version. Every single page contains one or two snippets of history, culture, and occasional science that made me want to start looking up alternate sources to verify them. It's a little difficult because Gregory includes no bibliography, but for the amount of stuff in this little book, the bibliography would add another forty or fifty pages. Sadly, I already knew a handful of the stories, which was enough to convince me that at least an overwhelming majority of these stories are true.

Most are about events or people you've never heard of before (The War of the Stray Dog, p.255; The War of the Oaken Bucket, p.133), but a few tell the truth (Lizzie Borden, p.5; Emancipation Proclamation, p. 8), or posit suppositions (were Julius Caesar, p. 206, and James Buchanan, p. 244, gay?), about far more well-known historical figures. Most are true stories in history so incredibly stupid that I chafed my forehead rubbing it with disbelief. There were two separate cases of insects being successfully prosecuted (p.19, p. 74). The United States once had two presidents at the same time (p.43), almost thirty years after David Rice Atchison was president for a single day--though he didn't know it until years later(p. 29).

Some stories are about stupid situations or ideas, some about stupid people, and a few are about smart people that history has completely forgotten. They're entertaining on their own, though Gregory likes to tuck his own one-liners in at the end of almost every anecdote. Those jokes range from decent to abysmal, but I still have to have some respect for the guy's research. The book spans centuries, with at least a couple stories taking place in the past decade, and touches on topics as diverse as religion and the price of salt. To give you a taste, here's one of my favorites, from page 260:

After a lengthy court battle, the Missouri Ku Klux Klan was granted permission, in March 2000, to participate in the state's Adopt-a-Highway program. This victory would force the state to use taxpayer money to place Adopt-a-Highway road signs on a one-mile stretch of road advertising the KKK. The Klan's victory was crossed out the following month when their organization was removed from the program. The reason? The state legislature decided to name the Klan's designated portion of road I-55 south of St. Louis) after civil rights activist Rosa Parks--and the Klan never showed up to clean.

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posted by reyn at 3:09 PM


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