Dave's Reviews > The Mental Floss History of the World: An Irreverent Romp through Civilization's Best Bits

The Mental Floss History of the World by Erik Sass
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Jan 13, 2009

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bookshelves: history, humor, non-fiction
Read in January, 2009

It is obvious, of course, that one cannot contain the history of the world in a 400-page book, so the question is why would one ever try? But try they have, and Will Pearson and Mangesh Hattikudur have delivered a humorous and fairly enjoyable trip through the history of the world in their 2008 book “The Mental Floss History of the World: An Irreverent Romp through Civilization’s Best Bits”.

There are several good points about the book. I thought they did a very good job in breaking history down into the different periods and did their best to keep the reader informed as to what was going on around the world during those times. Of course, lack of history for some areas certainly prevented them from doing as much as one would have liked, but the fact is they did better than most in providing more than just Western history. Another plus is the way they included small interesting tidbits along with the overall historical perspective. These provide most of the humor in the book, and it helps keep it more interesting for the reader as well as help hide all that they are leaving out.

Probably the best thing about the book is the way they were consistent in the presentation in each section. They open with the “In A Nutshell” section, which briefly describes the most significant events of that period of history. This is followed by their “What Happened When” section, which provides a timeline for that period of history. Next they have their “Spinning The Globe” section, which tries its best to give the reader a view of what was going on in each of the regions around the world. The next section they title “Who’s Up, Who’s Down” which looks at what fared well during that period and what didn’t do so well. The next section they titled “So Long And Thanks For All The” which looks at what happened during that period which had a lasting positive impact, at least for the most part. This is followed by the “And Thanks, But No Thanks For” section, which looks at what came from that period which we would rather not have had. The last of the repeated sections for each period of history is called “By The Numbers” where they throw significant numbers at the reader for that period.

While they did a number of things very well, it was difficult for me to get past all they were leaving out. As someone who loves history, I would like to see them give the periods of history a more in depth treatment, somewhat along the lines of what Larry Gonick has done with his “Cartoon History of the Universe”, which has now turned into “The Cartoon History of the Modern World”. Still, any book which helps people enjoy learning history isn’t all bad, and so I give this three stars and it probably deserves right around 3 ½. It is certainly a good book for people who want an overview, though there is a lot left out, and they oversimplify a great deal of what took place.
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