on 7 December 2008
I recently picked up a copy of Sass & Wiegand's "The Mental Floss History of the World," thinking it would probably be another amusing collection of brief historical trivia. It turns out to be a fairly detailed and witty narrative of events from ancient times to the present, a true world history that tells the story of China, India, Japan, Africa, Polynesia and the New World as well as Classical and Western Cilvization (obviously, at a mere 394 pages, it doesn't do any of this in great detail).
The book also offers a pleasing assortment of "ah-ha" moments, such as the fact that in 1175 BC Pharaoh Rameses III "forced" the Peleset tribe of Sea Peoples to settle in Egyptian-controlled Canaan (probably more an accommodation to facts on the ground than a true Egyptian victory). The Peleset became known in the Bible as "Philistines" and the territory that they occupied came to be called "Palestine." The narrative is spiced with side bars that explore interesting details like this, and each major section of the book concludes with an amusing review of "who's up" and "who's down" during that period of history.
I read a lot of history books (I just finished Susan Wise Bauer's superb "History of the Ancient World"), and "The Mental Floss History of the World" seems pretty accurate. It also offers up some new and interesting facts and perspectives that aren't covered in weightier tomes, plus it's a lot funnier. This is not the boring history that is the bane of high school students everywhere--this is world history revealed as the comedy and the tragedy it so often is.