Bad Days in History

In the break room at work, we have television on a cart.  You know, like the kind your teacher would roll into the classroom on random days and you would rejoice, even if it meant you had to watch Swing Kids for like the fiftieth time (oy vey.  Sorry Christian Bale, but not your best movie).  Anyway, on our t.v. cart, we keep all the adult ARCs that come in because ... I have no idea.  That's just where they live.  I noticed one last week called Bad Days in History and it promised me that it would be "gleefully grim."  Being a minor history nerd, I took it home.

I am pretty sure he didn't talk about the Trojan War at ALL.
There are certain people to whom I would not recommend this book--not because it's bad, but simply because you probably know most of these factoids already:
  • The history major.  You probably know most of these.
  • The non-history major who nevertheless enjoys history and had to study a lot of it in college (me!).  You also probably know about these.
  • People who read articles on Buzzfeed or Cracked, which tend to do a lot of "weird history" lists.
I would also not recommend this book to people who don't enjoy history.  A really successful book that engages readers no matter what their interest level is has to have a particularly witty or even slightly over-the-top writing style.  The only times I actually laughed while reading this were when what was actually said or done by the historical figure in question was funny, not because the surrounding expository text was humorous.  Most of these times related to George Bush (the elder and the younger).  

Ugh, I'm boring myself with this review.

Basic premise: author talks about one "bad thing" that happened on each calendar day.  Some are more interesting than others.  That's it.

This is also the first ARC that I've read that really needs a lot of polishing up before final publication, and I find this mildly ironic since the writer works for the Washington Post.  I expect more from people whose profession involves writing.  Yes, I understand he's not an editor or a proofreader, but for heaven's sake!  How many classic novelists had beta-readers and proofreaders and spellcheck to fix mistakes?  I'm being harsh.  I know I am.  I certainly don't write perfectly.  However, I'm not being paid to write this.  So there's that.  I bookmarked a few places, but I won't quote them in their entirety because then the publisher will come after me.  One particularly bizarre "correction" made by the author was to write [sic] after Queen Victoria wrote "defenceless."  If you are in Britain, as Queen Victoria was, being Queen, Empress, and other Sundry Titles Besides, then "defenceless" is perfectly proper.  The author seems to think that Queen Victoria couldn't spell.  She may have gone off the deep end after Prince Albert's death, but I'm pretty sure Her Majesty could spell.

Another piddly thing, which also happens to relate to British royalty, is that the author refers to "King George VI and Queen Elizabeth."  That stopped me cold for a moment because I know that Queen Elizabeth II is George VI's daughter.  If he had written "King George VI and his consort, Queen Elizabeth," it would have been clearer.  I don't think it's technically wrong to refer to the Queen Mother (now deceased) as Queen, but it's confusing because she and her daughter have the same name.  To clarify, he could also have called her "Elizabeth of York."  Then again, you could just chalk this up to me being excessively dense and stupid.

I just realized that I pretty much said nothing of real import about this book in this review.  Perhaps that tells you something?  If you want a fun take on history, this isn't really it.  I grew up reading the Horrible Histories series by Terry Deary (which now seems to involve a lot of rats (???)), which actually taught me a lot of what was rehashed in Bad Days in History.  Those books were funny but they were also very real about what life was like.  I'm now tempted to buy a bunch of used copies on Amazon because I think the ones I own are somewhere in the rafters of my parents' garage.

All in all, this isn't a bad book, but it's rather dull and needs some serious polishing before being published.


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