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Book Review: mental_floss Presents: Forbidden Knowledge

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4 Things to Know Before You Read mental_floss Presents: Forbidden Knowledge.

1. It’s a collection of historical facts and trivia, to use a word that somewhat unfairly cheapens the content.

2. The overwhelming majority of it consists of short, narrative lists much like this review but with lengthier and more informative entries.

3. You will learn something.

4. It’s compiled by the editors of mental_floss, a magazine that believes information can be presented in a funny and entertaining fashion.

3 Reasons the Book is Called Forbidden Knowledge.

1. Each of the seven chapters centers on one of the Seven Deadly Sins: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth.

2. The first person thanked in the Acknowledgments is “the Devil for making a book about sins possible.” Following shortly thereafter are such luminaries as Caligula, Nero, Genghis Khan and Atilla and all the Huns.

3. The editors are focusing on the stuff you shouldn’t know, not what you feel you’re supposed to know.

5 of the More Intriguing Topics.

1. “9 Famous Bastards Who Made Their Mark.”

2. “5 Greatest Syphilitics of All Time.”

3. “3 Delicious Animals We Charbroiled into Extinction — and 1 That Tasted Nasty but We Killed It Anyway.”

4. “War, What Is It Good For? Well, 3 Things, Actually.”

5. “5 Inventions Better Than the Remote.”

3 Historical Figures You’ve Probably Never Heard of Who Make an Appearance and Why.

1. Saragon the Great (ca. 2360-2279 BCE), heading the list of “9 Famous Bastards Who Made Their Mark.”

2. Commodus (1651-192 CE), ranked first in “4 World Leaders Who Accomplished Absolutely Nothing”

3. Ethelred the Unready, one of the “5 Laziest Kings of All Time.”

6 Historical Figures Who Make At Least Three Appearances in the Book

1. Leonardo DaVinci.

2. Napoleon.

3. Alexander the Great.

4. F. Scott Fitzgerald.

5. Joseph Stalin.

6. Genghis Khan.

3 Irritating Aspects of the Book.

1. Stretching topics a bit, such as “6 Servings of Swine: The Worst Pork Barrel Politics Revealed” in the Gluttony chapter.

2. Reading numerous lists in a row can be wearing. Although the magazine also loves lists (such as the “The 20 Most Annoying People in History”), it also incorporates content in a more straightforward narrative style.

3. The effort to combat Irritation 2 with occasional sidebars, such as some individual’s “Horrible-Terrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day” or “Lies Your Mother Told You”, doesn’t work as well as in the magazine and tends to produce segments that do not necessarily fit the theme.

1 Glaring Mistake That Never Should Have Made It Into Print

1. Spelling the names of John and Tom Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival as Fogarty.

4 Handy Uses for this Book.

1. You can pick it up any time you’re looking for something to do, even if only for a couple minutes. (Cross-reference: Item 1, “4 Reasons This Book is Fun to Read” below).

2. Using a few minutes of spare time to gain actual historical knowledge.

3. An entertaining Christmas present for the hard-to-buy-for who might actually read.

4. It might come in handy if you’re ever on a game show requiring knowledge of interesting, arcane or slightly bawdy historical knowledge. Of course, unless you have a wonderful memory, you may want to ask first if you can take the book with you.

4 Reasons This Book is Fun to Read.

1. You can take and read it anywhere, even the bathroom, for which it might be perfectly suited (in terms of available reading time, not content).

2. You need not read it in sequential order. You can can skip around all you want and the odd-numbered pages always tell you which of the Seven Deadly Sins into which you have ventured.

3. Although every fact is true (at least insofar as this reviewer knows), the quirky, humorous and tongue-in-cheek tone proves that learning need not be painful.

4. How many other books can you read that actually call Ben Franklin a “man slut” — twice?
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About Tim Gebhart

Tim Gebhart is a book addict living in Sioux Falls, S.D., where he practices law to provide shelter for his family, books and dogs.
  • http://thereconstruction.com Bruce Joyner

    People love the dirt that this book dishes out..
    I am no exception…this is must reading for the
    people who like actual history.As a lover of history I found this book to have more truth in it than the average history book…which is not surprising…most history books are flawed..because the writer has an agenda(even if they don’t know it)..This book is fun,wackey and a good read…I suggest it as a present for that friend or relative who has a short attention span
    or anyone who just likes entertainment with their history lessons.