History does not have to be boring. The fact the world (or at least the human population) has gotten as far as it has is a source of endless fascination, and a story that needs to be told and told well. We at Needcoffee find it deplorable that there are so many history texts out there that are so dry. Mental Floss’ answer to these deadly dull texts is instead, as they describe it, “An Irreverent Romp Thought Civilization’s Best Bits.” The authors of The Mental Floss History of the World strive (and for the most part, succeed) in presenting the history of the world in a light and interesting manner.
Each chapter of the book has different sections. We start off with “In a Nutshell,” which lays out the basics of the particular period, followed by a brief timeline of “What Happened When.” Following that are sections and tiny inset blurbs with more details about particular topics of interest (the Reformation, the cast of characters you need to know to understand the Enlightenment, etc.) Next is the “Spinning the Globe” section, which tells you what’s going on all over the world during the period. Then come the bits that I find the most interesting. “Who’s Up, Who’s Down” explores which civilizations are doing well or poorly during the period, often with fun titles like “The Huns: Up, Down, Who Cares? As Long As We Can Break Something.” Next is a section for noteworthy social trivia, often including key inventions and discoveries during the period, influential people or political and social movements. Some of the most fascinating trivia comes from this section. Finally comes “By the Numbers” with pertinent statistics from the period (apparently, Taft weighed 340 pounds in 1912). And then on to the next chapterâ€¦ The sections can be a bit confusing at times because of all of the inset material, but there is enough chronological and geographical flow (and wit) within each chapter to make it easy reading.
The Mental Floss guys have indeed provided an irreverent romp, and it’s quite often a lot of fun. In addition, I learned a lot of really interesting historical trivia and some more pithy stuff as well. Pick it up if you appreciate a lighthearted approach to what is truly an interesting subject, but be wary of the facts therein until they publish an edition with references.