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Book Review: Scandalous! 50 Shocking Events You Should Know About (So You Can Impress Your Friends) by Hallie Fryd

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What we would do for entertainment without scandals? I mean really, who didn’t crack up at the sight of the “holier than thou” Jim Bakker bawling his eyes out when he and his whole PTL scam was exposed? Or how about the case of Milli Vanilli, when the LP they were lip-syncing to started to skip? That one was hilarious on a couple of levels. First of all, why were they using a vinyl album to lip-sync to rather than a tape? The other one was the fact that anyone even cared at all. No matter who actually sang the songs, their music was awful!

Those are just a couple of entries in the new book Scandalous! 50 Shocking Events You Should Know About (So You Can Impress Your Friends). The book covers most of the 20th century, the first event is the 1906 murder of architect Stanford White, and the finale is the 2000 Bush-Gore Presidential debacle.

I cited Bakker and Milli Vanilli because at the time, at least, they were funny. The aftermath was not — Bakker wound up serving five years in jail. Much worse though was the fate of Vanilli member Rob Pilatus, who died of a drug overdose at the age of 33.

Author Hallie Fryd could have easily taken “the low road” and made light of the various scandals — or chosen ones in which nobody was actually hurt. With the mandate to pick just 50 events out of 94 years of history, she obviously had plenty of choices. Her intent was a little more serious, though. To quote from her introduction: “Scandals are cornerstones in a society’s evolution.” Indeed they are. For example, even though I was pretty young at the time, I still remember how shocking it was for Nixon to actually resign as President in 1974. It was absolutely unprecedented.

The book follows a basic format. First there is “The Scoop,” which headlines the scandal at hand. Next is “What Went Down,” which tells the basic story. Each scandal has a section titled “Quoteables,” featuring various quotes surrounding the scandal. “The Aftermath” is fairly self-explanatory, as is “Why We Still Care.” Finally there is a “More” box, which mentions other, similar events which have occurred over time.

All of the information is rather brief, each scandal is basically covered in about four pages, with photos and appropriate ephemera. I opened this review with a couple of relatively recent funny scandals — but Fryd does not shy away from some of the more tragic ones either. Examples of these include the Kent State shootings in 1970, the Jonestown mass suicide in 1978, and the Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls murders in 1996.

To go into all 50 of the scandals is not the intent of this review — but there are an incredible amount of them, which is the main recommendation I have for Scandalous!. There are the relatively humorous, and the truly awful occurrences previously mentioned — and many others along those same lines. Then there are the simply weird ones.

In the category I would call “weird,” nobody was really hurt, but the situations riveted the nation, at least for a while. Examples of these include Miss America Vanessa Williams being forced to abscond her position after nude pictures of her were published in Penthouse magazine. The flap over Robert Mapplethorpe’s “pornographic” photos being funded by the National Endowment for the Arts is another. Then there is the case of the 1919 World Series, which was “thrown” by the Chicago White Sox for mobster cash.

The 50 scandals Hallie Fryd chose to discuss in Scandalous! reveal something of an alternate history of the 20th century. The format is very inviting, and you may even learn a thing or two. The book is available through numerous sources, including publisher Zest Books itself.

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