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Book Review: The Book of Firsts: 150 World-Changing People and Events from Caesar Augustus to the Internet by Peter D’Epiro

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As Peter D'Epiro writes in the preface, "The first of anything in our lives acquires an aura all its own." Do you remember your first kiss, your first car, your first love who may also be the cause of your first heartbreak? All firsts help define an individual from the first album you bought on your own, the first place you lived without your parents, to the first time you encountered the death of a family member.

Collected in The Book of Firsts, as the subtitle indicates, are 150 major firsts for humanity over the course of the first millennium A.D. that shaped our species. Opening with "Who was the first Roman emperor?" (A: Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus, aka Augustus, who reigned from 27BC to 14 AD) and concluding with "What was the first internet?" (A: contributor Tom Matrullo provides a history of the Internet up to 2009 and points to two possible answers), an essay offering historical context and seeking to clarify "the difference between the absolute first and the first that really mattered" accompanies each answer.

The book is broken down into centuries with each getting seven or eight entries, and it covers a wide range of subjects that comprise the human experience: arts, religion, science, philosophy, war, politics, inventions, and discoveries. There's also a who's who spotlighting people such as the first pope, philosopher-king, Santa Claus, Muslim, troubadour, modern man, etc.

What I most enjoyed was making my own discoveries within the book. When I read "Who first published a theory of evolution based on natural selection?" I assumed I was going to get an essay on Charles Darwin and his On the Origin of the Species. However, it turns out the actual answer is Alfred Russel Wallace. The essay presents a brief biography of Wallace and reveals his theory and connection to Darwin.

The Book of Firsts is a wonderfully engaging treasure trove of information best suited for history buffs and trivia pursuers. It can be read all the way through or savored in small amounts. Either way, D'Epiro's goal is too "stimulate the reader's hunger for further historical knowledge in greater depth an detail." I'd be the first to admit he succeeded with me.

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS
  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/christine-lakatos/ Christine

    Sounds interesting, El.

  • Greg Barbrick

    This sounds like a good one.

  • http://woodnotwood.blogspot.com A Geek Girl

    I love books that prove to be a wealth of useless knowledge. I happen to be one of those who think that knowledge is never useless. I have several quote books and guidebooks listing authors, movies, etc. My favorite gift ever given by my mom was the Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of rock & roll. I still have it although it’s falling apart. Funny thing… whenever people visit and check out my bookshelves, those are usually the books they pull out to look at.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    “Useless knowledge,” GG?

    But I guess you’re correcting yourself in the next sentence (for failing to highlighting the expression with scare quotes).

    Nothing is really useless to the uninitiated. But then again, you said pretty much the same thing.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    how can a book prove to be a wealth of useless knowledge when you find knowledge never useless? bit of a paradox.

    and yes, the book is interesting and good