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Tasty nibbles of history
on 11 January 2008
This book is a collection of snippets of curious historical fact, legends, and anecdotes. the book is arranged in chronological order, starting with 75 million years ago when, according to Scinetologists, glactic tyrants people earth, then it skips to 4004 B.C. (the proposed date of the Creation of the earth, as worked out in the 17th century), then, rather disconcertingly, it goes straight to 616 B.C. and Tarquinus,King of Rome. That nothing in history was considered interesting between 4004 B.C. and 616 B.C. seems a touch dismissive of Mr Crofton, surely there must have been something in, say, 3000 years of Egyptian history that was considered worthy of notice? But apparently not.
A lot of the anecdotes are to do with sexual exploits, gruesome executions or other punishments, or strange happenings of various kinds. Many aren't really what you could call history, but are amusing all the same. Here is voltaire's opinion of 'Hamlet' for instance "It is a vulgar and preposterous drama, which would not be tolerated by the vilest populace of France, or Italy...One would imagine this piece to be the work of a drunken savage." There are some genuinely interesting facts. For example, I did not know that the Americans national motto 'Epluribus unum' (out of many, one) came from a poem atrributed to Virgil, which refers to a recipe involving cheese, garlic and herbs. Nor did I know that Sir Isaac Newton invented the cat-flap. compared to that, his discovery of gravity pales into insignificance.
This is an enjoyable book to dip into, but probably a bit much to read at one go. It's fun, but I would have liked it if Mr Crofton could have given us a few more interesting stories from ancient times, and I do feel he might have managed to come up with something to bridge the gap between the Creation and Tarquinus. Three and a half thousand years without anythign interesting at all happening is a rather long time.