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The Pessimist's Guide to History: An Irresistible Guide to Compendium of Catastrophes, Barbarities, Massacres and Mayhem
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The Pessimist's Guide to History: An Irresistible Guide to Compendium of Catastrophes, Barbarities, Massacres and Mayhem

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  470 Ratings  ·  48 Reviews
A text for cynics, skeptics, and misanthropes chronicles the disastrous events--from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, to the death of Socrates, to the Exxon Valdez oil spill--that have shaped the history of the world.
Paperback, 448 pages
Published April 1st 2000 by Quill (first published June 1992)
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164 books — 65 voters

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Dec 11, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is about as much fun as a non-fiction book can be: a chronologically-ordered series of snarky summaries of bizarre, tragic, frightening, grimly-hilarious catastrophes and disasters from history. I think of it as a companion to Wikipedia (which itself is a handy companion to more serious research): I read this book, get the basic outline of interesting stories from the past, then go to Wikipedia and get a slightly-less-basic version of events. Fun! (God, I'm a dork.)
Jun 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
A very unconventional book. Interesting, terrible but also funny. Fast reading.
Ben Sweezy
Apr 27, 2009 rated it liked it
Fun times abound. Unless you're Constantinople.

However, I don't really like the snarky comment at the end of each entry.
Jan 28, 2009 rated it it was ok
Easy to put down yet oddly captivating, this book is more a list of catastrophes from the past 4,000 years than it is a pessimists' guidebook. For this reason, it has anecdotal value, but can bore the reader after countless accounts of burning theaters and erupting volcanoes.
Oct 06, 2008 rated it it was ok
This catalog of historical disasters, both natural and man-made, has a certain snarky, superficial appeal, which doesn't survive a closer reading. Its putative appeal rests in the implicit invitation to the reader to join in ridiculing various follies perpetrated by the powerful and the pompous throughout the ages. The problem is that all but the most jaded of readers must eventually recognize the ultimate emptiness of this kind of schadenfreude. Furthermore, the great majority of catastrophes d ...more
This was a very interesting book, but I would have liked more in-depth information on more of the disasters catalogued in it, especially the more modern ones. I realize that kind of defeats the purpose of a book whose selling point is its short, tantalizing bites of info, but there it is.
David Ward
May 27, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fiction
The Pessimist's Guide to History: An Irresistible Compendium of Catastrophes, Barbarities, Massacres, and Mayhem – From 14 Billion Years Ago to 2007 by Stuart and Doris Flexner (Collins 2008) (902.02). The authors have done an excellent job of creating and cataloguing a record of bad luck and unfortunate turns-of-event which have plagued humans since the dawn of recorded history. This compilation includes events wrought by God's inhumanity as well as those tragedies resulting from man's inhumani ...more
Evan Micheals
Sep 13, 2018 rated it liked it
This book took me over a year to complete. It was a chewing gum book for me (a book to read in in-between moments), and the format of short anecdotes worked well for this. The most salient point I took away from reading this book is how remarkably regularly Nature and Human qualities (malevolence, negligence, greed, or hate) have caused millions, hundreds of thousands, tens of thousands to die at a time. The book also reflects who we are at our finest (e.g. the men who in spite knowing they woul ...more
May 01, 2018 rated it liked it
I'm no stranger to compendiums of horrible things happening to people. Heck, The Great Big Book of Horrible Things is a lot of fun (and, you know, horror). But this one is... not as good.

It's not bad, either. The Pessimist's Guide to History is a chronologically ordered list of, well, horrible things that happened. It covers natural disasters-- volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, floods-- and manmade occurrences-- wars, executions, DDT-- as well as some things in between-- famines, epidemics, fires
This was a pretty good read, and well-suited for reading in small chunks.

I didn't particularly care for the snide remarks that were tagged onto the end of many entries, attempting to add a bit of levity to the stories. They were distracting, if nothing else, and a bit repetitive at times. I also noticed more and more egregious typos and proofreading issues as the book went on, which is always a BIG mood-killer for me.

Overall, a quick and decently interesting book, and good for finding events you
Dec 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed reading this book. I recommend it for the history lovers.
Nathan Albright
Feb 04, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: challenge
There is a downside to reading a book like this one, and that is the fact that although the various stories are told with wit and sarcastic humor, and though the book has a suitably gloomy but adorable cartoon on the cover, the fact is that reading about the various disasters, which are thrown together with no sense of proportion, get rather monotonous after awhile. One reads the book, thinking of all the disasters that were not included, like the 1971 Indo-Pakistan War, or the full extent of th ...more
Alex Telander
Jul 27, 2008 rated it liked it
Optimists have ruled the world in popularity since the first one made a comment about the beautiful weather, leaving the pessimists behind, ignored, and looked down upon; but now that's all going to change with the freshly updated Pessimist's Guide to History. For every happy comment, witty repartee, and overly-positive statement, pessimists will now have the fodder to fight back, with this handy reference manual.

The book begins with the most catastrophic event in the history of the universe: th
Lovely book about death, pain & suffering...if there is a way to make these subjects sound less appalling I believe the author found a way to do manage it. Thankfully, the way the book is written offers some detachment from the situations so you don't truly feel the Human drama playing but I found it to be more like reading a technical paper.

One thing I found appalling is the lack of mention of the Mexican Revolution period (1910-1920). One would assume that a civil war that lasted a decade
Sharon Zimmerman
The very segmented style of the book, with every disastrous event separated out, made it easy to stop when the history became tedious. Because the author chose such a broad unifying topic for her book, there were no characters to empathize with and cheer for in this book.
Several of her "disasters" were tongue in cheek which broke the monotony a bit.
All in all, if you're looking for history you can read straight through, pick something else. If you're looking for something that can easily be put
Jul 25, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2011, nonfiction, history
While I love a good list, going through about a 100 million years of natural and man-made disasters can get you down. The book covers everything from prehistoric extinctions to deadly volcanoes to presidential assassinations, most entries ending with a suitably gloomy statement about humanity's choices and actions. Like your favorite pessimistic friend, you alternately agree with the dark outlook and grow weary of the consistently bleak outlook. It's like Earth's history being recited by Marvin ...more
Feb 13, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was fun. I suspect it was written to be one of those "pick up here and there" books, but I read it straight through. It really brings home how unfriendly our earth is; it seems it's nothing for half a million people to die from hurricanes and earthquakes every few years. The only bad thing about reading it front to back is that I got a bit desensitized. "Volcano wipes out blah blah blah ... *yawn*." My only complaint about the book in general is that it tended to repeat some folkloric ...more
Russell Dunn
Dec 28, 2008 rated it liked it
I liked it, but i was distracted by some unnecessary comedic commentary added to the end of nearly every tragic entry. I understand that the intent of the whole product is to be a tongue-in-cheek treatment of these horrible events, but the problem is that the comments simply aren't funny. Nonetheless, this is an extraordinary catalog of terrible moments in the Earth's past, many of which are under-historized or forgotten.
Nicole Yovanoff
Jan 22, 2016 rated it it was ok
Some of the book was very interesting, but after a while it became very repetitive. Too much coverage of natural disasters. Very little content to it. Why did you choose that disaster? Were there consequences.

I would have preferred the content to discuss the social, political, economic or cultural ramifications of the event. After a while, you become too desensitized to respect the deaths and tragedies and just skim the page until you find something of substance.
Daniel Kukwa
My only complaint is that, pre-1700, the entries don’t exactly compare to the latter half of the book. Now, I can’t blame recorded history for being more detailed after a certain point, but at times it does feel as if the ancient world is slightly neglected. Still, as a cross between the ultimate bathroom book AND an alternate research tool, it’s certainly worth a look over…if, for nothing else, than officially declaring an event involving Paris Hilton a historical disaster!

Feb 08, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
This book gives brief samplings of events through history. While it's interesting and educational, and does have humor, I was hoping for a bit more humor, as the title seems to imply. It just concentrates on all the bad things (as it says it does) but that doesn't really make for a pessimist.

For a while I had this book on hold, but I can't actually see myself going back to it, so it will be left unfinished.
Amber the Human
Jul 05, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My brother-in-law gave me this for Christmas of 2013 and it took me quite some time to finish. You can't read too much of this book in one sitting because it start to make you callus. "Oh, only 300 people died? How boring." Would probably be a five-star-review except for all those weird last sentences that are thrown in to the majority of entries.
Apr 02, 2009 rated it it was ok
A good world history lesson or review for someone who has slacked off in that area. Also very depressing to read all of humanity's failings... I had a nightmare about Nashville being attacked by terrorists, which is unusual for me.
Dec 26, 2008 rated it really liked it
Very educational, but really entertaining. Even though it is a true timeline of events I was still able to read it cover-to-cover without it ever feeling like a text book. And so full of interesting and more useless knowledge.
Tanz Sixfingers
Apr 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book, and I refer back to it fairly often, especially when working on historical or time travel tales. It's a very different encyclopedia of when things went wrong, and rates them based on how many people died.
Hailey Franks
Jun 26, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Such a wonderful book to pick up and come back to because of the way it is sectioned. It's not one you need to sit down and read straight through. Even if you aren't a huge history fan because you think it's "boring", these are all the disastrous and interesting parts that everyone will enjoy.
Keli Wright
Aug 23, 2014 rated it did not like it
another book that was a waste of my time. It had historical events and he did write about them but they were all skewed to his perception and for his jokes. He also added Larry King interviewing Paris Hilton and how that made us brain dead that was just stupid.
Jul 03, 2009 rated it really liked it
fun to have on the book shelf, but nothing one could get drawn into. might consider changing title to The Pessimistic Guide to History for People Diagnosed with ADHD.
Oct 18, 2008 rated it liked it
Light, quick and an easy way to gain some basic facts to boost your Trivial Pursuit score and give others the impression that you were a couple credits shy of a History major.
William Scott
Mar 21, 2014 rated it did not like it
Sucked! Many facts were simply made up. Since when are bible stories counted as actual history? I had to put it down before I ran into some Grimm's Fairy-tales and threw it across the room.
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Goodreads Librari...: ISBN13: 9780061431012 3 151 Dec 03, 2012 03:08PM  
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