Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A People's History of the Peculiar: A Freak Show of Facts, Random Obsessions and Astounding Truths by Nick Belardes | Book Review

(The cover might well be the best part of the book.)

I picked up A People's History of the Peculiar intending to learn some new facts.  The cover of the book seemed very promising, as did the back cover blurb.  Unfortunately, the interesting knowledge kind of ended there.

In the introduction, the author talks about his personal obsessions and interests, and that sets the tone for the book.  This book didn't feel like a general knowledge book; it felt like a loosely cobbled together collection of anecdotes and facts that the author personally found intriguing... not necessarily things that the general readership would find interesting.

When I say "loosely cobbled together," I mean very loosely cobbled together.  At times it was difficult to differentiate between fact and myth, and the transitions from subject to subject were often jarring.  There was no standard length of an entry, either.  Some facts would get two or three pages worth of information; some facts were barely skimmed over in two or three sentences.  Even within the same chapter there was no uniformity.  

I was also disappointed in the lack of background information and resource citing.  The myth of the Mothman was given equal import to actual fact, such as the information about British aerospace engineers sending stuffed teddy bears into space.  Some of the most intriguing items were presented with little fanfare and no reference to where the author acquired the information, leading me to wonder at the validity of the statements.  Most notable, one of the items on the front cover of the book is presented completely without firm foundation.  "The Secret Reason Napoleon Lost Waterloo," for instance: the author states that Napoleon suffered from severe hemorrhoids and that the reason he lost Waterloo was because it was too painful for him to ride a horse that day.  The author doesn't cite any historic basis for this assumption.  Was Napoleon actually suffering from hemorrhoids that particular day?

I recommend looking elsewhere for fun facts.  The back cover says that this book contains "conversation starters."  I wouldn't start a conversation with these facts; if pressed, I wouldn't be able to say with certainty that they were true!

*I received my copy from my public library.

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