Do you ever think back on your history classes in high school and college and wonder what exactly it was they were teaching? Or do you ever wonder if some of those dry, boring facts we learned have changed over the years as more information is uncovered? I for one was bored stiff in most of my US history classes in junior high and high school. I would have much preferred to have learned more about European history or the ancient world than more about the effect of cotton on the US economy in the 1800s.
Well, if you were as bored as I was, there may be a way to refresh your memory on US history and learn a few new things at the same time. Erik Sass from Mental Floss (along with Will Pearson and Mangesth Hattikudur) has created a history book that not only lays out all of those names, dates, and places we probably should remember, but offers some fascinating details about the things our teachers probably didn't know.
This book starts a long time ago and works its way up to the present - some 23,000+ years of history from "Chapter 1: Prehistory, Puritans, Plantations, and Pirates" starting at roughly 23,000 BCE (Before Current Era) to "Chapter 10: America, the Decider" ending in 2010. And they do it all in a little more than 400 pages.
You may be thinking to yourself "History is boring, why would I want to read this book?" It's a fair enough question, and if the book covered every single year in that 23,000 year span I would probably still be reading when the apocalypse hits and need the paper for toiletries, kindling, or dinner. Somehow I think the problems we currently have with our shrinking forests and jungles would probably be exacerbated by the thousands of pages worth of useless information the book would cover.
Thankfully, the bright folks from Mental Floss don't do that.
Each chapter works about the same way. It starts with an introduction, moves to a "What Happened When" list of important dates and events, and then hits the high points of each era covered. They cover a lot of ground in a fairly short amount of pages. My favorite sections are the "Lies Your Teacher Told You" that goes over what you probably learned and then why some of that was untrue. Also included along the way are fascinating little tidbits of facts or figures.
I have to admit that for not being a fan of US history, I learned and relearned quite a bit. For example, though Benedict Arnold is labeled as one of the biggest traitors in American history, I never knew more than the fact that he switched sides during the Revolutionary War. Turns out there were reasons for why he flipped. Though he fought well in several key battles and was wounded in the line of duty, he didn't actually win the battles he led and never really got credit for his accomplishments. While he recovered, he grew more and more bitter and eventually wanted what was coming to him. Though he is still a traitor, at least now I understand more about what his motivations were behind his acts.