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on 8 June 2014
How to learn your history in a very short time, and find out the truth, which is so often tarnished by a one sided view.

I am in awe as to how someone can cram so much information into such a small book!
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on 1 April 2013
Curiously disappointing. Little new, less surprising. Graeme Donald covers much the same ground more effectively and John O'Farrell in a much more entertaining way. The bibliography is the best bit.
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on 19 March 2013
Main complaint is 30% of the book is reference material and some of the debunked myths aren't what I'd consider to be that wildly known anyhow. All the same, some interesting stuff, with a bit of showing off potential!
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VINE VOICEon 20 October 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
'History is a pack of lies about events that never happened told by people who weren't there.'
- George Santayana

A slightly different perspective to the one above is that history is written by those who win wars and live to tell the tale. It stands to reason that such survivors will paint themselves into history as the 'good guys' while slandering the slain 'baddies', condemning them to be forever thought of as evil tyrants. Emma Marriott's quest to quosh historical lies and correct long-believed misconceptions is admirable. I opened the book with interest, hoping to discover some mind-blowing revelations. Did I find them? Not really. Many of the lies that Marriott seeks to overturn were first exposed long ago. Examples of this: Native Americans suffered genocide at the hands of European settlers; Christopher Columbus wasn't the first non-native to discover the Americas. Marriott does give some shocking figures to showcase the horrific scale of the slaughter of Native Americans (and their food sources): between 1830 and 1895, the number of living Native Americans was reduced from 2 million to 90,000, while 70 million buffalo (the natives' main food source) were slaughtered by invaders. These numbers show the extent of the inhuman treatment which the Native Americans and indigenous wildlife received, but it is common knowledge that European settlers perpetrated these shameful acts. With regards to Columbus, it is widely known that he was not the first non-native to land on the Americas, as the Vikings had been visiting those shores and trading peacefully with the natives for centuries before 1492. The entire chapter on Columbus is impotent, as it imparts no new information to the reader.

Some chapters did provide surprising information. For example, the Wild West has long been portrayed as a lawless place where gunfights were commonplace and life was cheap. It turns out that in comparison to today's America, the Wild West was an extremely safe place where the vast majority of people were hard-working, law-abiding citizens. Gunfights were rare; in Dodge City - which was considered the most dangerous city in the Wild West - the largest number of people ever killed in gunfights during a single year was five. The gunfight at the OK Corral, which went down in history as the bloodiest gun battle in the West, lasted one minute and resulted in only three deaths. I was surprised to find out that most cowboys of the time were Hispanic, African-American or Mexican.

Other revelations include: America's founding fathers were against democracy, considering it anarchy; the main killing sites of the Holocaust were not Auschwitz and other German concentration camps (although hundreds of thousands of Jews were murdered in these), but extermination camps (where millions were killed); Captain Scott of the Antarctic was a poorly prepared, inept explorer; the mysterious Man in the Iron Mask's true identity; China's great 'famine' under Chairman Mao saw the deliberate killing of 45 million citizens through forced starvation and other means; James Watt didn't invent the steam engine; Galileo wasn't persecuted and imprisoned by the Catholic church, but lived under loose house arrest in his luxurious home, where he continued to work on scientific discoveries and writings; St Patrick wasn't born in Ireland; Roman gladiators rarely fought to the death.

Several other subjects are tackled too. While most of these make interesting reading, they don't go into any real detail. Each chapter follows the same blueprint: it points out that an established piece of history is incorrect, then presents a small amount of (sometimes spurious) evidence to back up the argument. I'd have liked the chapters to be twice as long, presenting more in-depth evidence which would have given the book more historical credibility. As is, the bite-size chapters are little more than factoids. History buffs may learn nothing new from the book. Those with a passing interest in history, or a desire to boost their general knowledge, will enjoy the book and find it an easy read.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is an entertaining collection of thirty-one short essays giving us a more informed view on popular (mis?)conceptions of history. The style is light and easy, but the facts seem to be accurate and they are certainly well presented.

There are additional box-outs with more snippets in parallel with the main text to aid understanding and add a few more germane insights. Illustrations are generously scattered though the book to add smiles and enlightenment, be they cartoons or maps. A comprehensive Index at the back helps us to find specific references to people, places and events mentioned in the book.

I enjoyed reading this one, and where I have specific expert knowledge of some of the topics I found she had presented the same facts I was familiar with. I still don't know who is really correct, since history is mostly written by the survivors, but Marriott has gone a long way towards busting some common myths.

More importantly, if you read between the lines you might discover that she has given us the bones of the classic analysis methods to help us to be more critical of those glib 'facts' so frequently offered us on a more casual basis by the frivolous or uninformed or those with an axe to grind.

My only criticism is that there was not more of the book.
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VINE VOICEon 1 October 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
`Bad History: How We Got the Past Wrong' is clearly supposed to be an entertaining canter through famous false `facts', assumptions and misapprehensions about our past, putting them to the sword as it goes. It doesn't quite work, however.

As entertainment, the writing is a little too flat. The apparent examples of Bad History sometimes relatively obscure (did the USA liberate Vietnam in the Second World War or was it largely local forces?), which does not help, others frankly far too well known for the well informed to be surprised by (Dumas' Man in the Iron Mask in reality was not a member of the French Royalty; the conspiracy theory that Roosevelt engineered the attack of Pearl Harbour by the Japanese is wrong). The addition of some uninspired cartoons does not assist.

In overturning false beliefs about history the book does not quite live up to its promise either. Particularly poor examples are the chapters `Roman Gladiators Fought to the Death' (it turns out that, yes, they did fight to the death, just not always, which seems to prove the contention the author seeks to disprove) and `Britain Was Once a Fully Integrated Province of the Roman Empire' (which turns on interpreting this as being entirely culturally dominated by, even though the areas they conquered were politically integrated, the province prosperous and important and the Romans routinely let their provinces retain much of their distinctive cultures).

Some of the chapters do make good on their promise - the sections on the American contribution in the First World War and Vichy France's attitude towards the Jews, for example. But too many are either too well known facts (some of which I was taught at school) or rely on a particularly slanted view of the evidence.

This book looks like it was inspired by the success of QI. The television series and its written spin offs (like the Book of General Ignorance) work well because they are entertaining and informative. They combine a degree of wit and humour with genuinely interesting and surprising facts. This book lacks the same degree of either amusement or compelling fact or overturned assumption.

For free as a review copy it was fine, if I'd had to pay for it I would have been disappointed.
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VINE VOICEon 13 October 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I enjoyed this book. I found it "easy to read" and each topic is broken down to very short chapters (a bit like The World accorinding to Clarkson, so its perfect for "bathroom reading"!). The book also covers a good range of "historical mistakes", although these do seem to be mostly set "western" history - for example, there is no african or latin american history covered in the book at all. The book is also well presented, and includes some midly amusing cartoon sketeches here and there.

However, I am at a total loss as to who this book is aimed at. Initially I thought GCSE/A-level student, then I thought adult "historical layman" but I would hestitate to recommend this book to either as it is simply too vague and too irrelevent. It is certainly not for historians, or for those with a good understanding of history in general, as the explinations given are (Mostly) well known mistakes - corrected at the classroom level - and the information given in the very chapters are so watered down and simplified that any historian would find them frustrating at the very least and insulting at the very worst.

This leaves me with a final theory - this book is aimed at the "man on the street" the man who's idea of history goes as far as "Churchill, 1066, the Nazis, 1966 (FFS!) and that's it"; and the likelyhood that such people would buythis are very slim indeed.

All in all, this is an OK book - as I said, its perfect Bathroom reading - but its also a bit of a pointless book, and a wasted opportunity at the same time to publish something that really would "correct" historical mistakes.
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on 3 December 2011
Napoleon Bonaparte had some firm views on history, describing it as "the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon", "fables agreed upon", and, perhaps as he grew more exasperated, "a set of lies agreed upon". While much can be established as fact about the past, there is something in what he said, especially where a version of history is shaped by those with political or nationalist agendas or simply by the whims of popular writers.

"Bad History" is a readable and entertaining corrective to some of the most popular "agreed fables", often things we learned at school or from popular books, and therefore carry through life as "facts". It's aimed at the general reader, and so is perhaps too light for serious students of history, but it combines information and reading pleasure.

Why bother about such things? Well apart from the principled (respect for truth) and the realistic (the chance to be one up on others) considerations there's a very basic reason - what really happened in history is often more interesting than the commonly accepted version. And there's a bonus in understanding why that version came about, and what it tells us about people's agendas and perhaps why they write what they write.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 13 January 2015
Or, perhaps, how we got things mostly right, barring a few minor matters that don't really add up to much. I get the distinct feeling that Marriott worked this up as a commission, given the list of websites, other books and article references she quotes. Nicking bits from other books doesn't add up to a good book with an original slant. It's all over the place. Dipping in and out of history she begins with the "American Old West", back to Henry V, Captain Scott followed by the French Revolution - no sense of history as a narrative of any kind. The least she could have done is made her snippets consecutive. This is 180 pages of unconnected bits and pieces. It is bad history itself, unfortunately.

Among the pieces I found moderately interesting there was a snippet on Roman Roads: "Recent archaeological excavations suggest that pre-Roman British tribal kingdoms planned and built roads just as good as Roman ones. Findings in Shropshire have found examples of an Iron Age road which was properly engineered and surfaced with layers of brushwood silt and cobbles."

Here's a couple more that might whet your appetite: suggesting that our antecedents were very far from pushovers when it came to defending themselves. "Unlike her European neighbours, Britain was never fully integrated into the Roman Empire, partly because her tribal network fought hard to maintain its independence (and would remain intact after the Romans' arrival. Throughout the first century AD the Romans faced a series of tribal revolts including the Iceni revolt in AD 60, which under the leadership of Boudicca destroyed the Roman towns of Colchester, London and St Albans and almost spelt the end of Roman rule.

If such snippets appeal, you might enjoy this. I can't say I was overwhelmed with this random and somewhat partial exercise in pinching the work of others.
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VINE VOICEon 29 September 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Best place for this book is in the loo. That's not a reflection on its merits, rather that each chapter is so short it can be read comfortably in the duration of your stay. Or if you aren't a reasonably quick reader like me, a nice slim volume to take on holiday.

Hardly an original book, there are several works of history-debunking, or rather historical-misconception debunking, available. But given that it's quite a short book it is quite wide-ranging and also very readable. It did tell me a few things I didn't know but nothing seriously shocking or challenging, though it does provide a useful reminder that history is written by the victors. It's hardly a profound insightful work and all the research is from secondary sources.

Four stars is probably being generous but it does succeed in doing what it set out to do.
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