Mental Floss History of the World

October 16, 2010

Summary: I’m not really a fan of Mental Floss or anything, but I’ve heard the magazine (and website) praised by friends and acquaintances, so when I saw my library had this volume of The Mental Floss History of the World, I decided to check it out.

The book is subtitled “An Irreverent Romp Through Civilization’s Best Bits”, so I was expecting a fun (and funny) look at history — perhaps something along the lines of Bill Bryson’s Short History of Nearly Everything. That’s sort of how this book played out, as the authors, Erik Sass and Steve Wiegand, glossed over many high points in human history, dating back to ancient civilizations and working forward at a breakneck pace. But there wasn’t nearly as much humor as expected, so the reading was kind of bland in many areas.

It’s an impossible task to write a comprehensive history of the world, of course, especially in a single volume like this. The authors made the necessary disclaimers at the outset, and then proceeded to talk about some of the highlights of the past 5000 years or so. The chapters included such topics as the Egyptian pyramids and mummies; the French Revolution and the succeeding Reign of Terror; various Chinese dynasties; the ancient Romans; the Crusades; and the Aztecs, while stopping short of more modern topics such as the development of Industrial computers or Gulf War II.

This is not the kind of book that you could actually learn much from, as the authors tended to focus on trivia rather than the bigger picture (which is the way Mental Floss operates). And the trivia wasn’t even all that memorable. I usually love trivia, but a week after finishing this book, I can’t remember a single juicy tidbit that I didn’t already know going in.

Nevertheless, The Mental Floss History of the World was a fairly quick read, and I can definitely see how some folks might want this as a reference book or a coffee table book or whatever. I give it 3 stars out of 5.

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