A book is good company. It is full of conversation without loquacity. It comes to your longing with full instruction, but pursues you never.
--Henry Ward Beecher

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Young readersElementary readersUpper elementary readersMiddle school readers
8 stars

Oh, Yikes! History's Grossest, Wackiest Moments

by Joy Masoff     Illus. by Terry Sirrell
Long Anecdotal Reference
Genre: Non-Fiction

Did you know that about 2000 years ago the Mayans used to play a game that was kind of like soccer and basketball and that sometimes the WINNERS of the game would get their heads chopped off? Did you know that in 1896 someone invented a drill that you could use on your face to make dimples? Did you know that in the 1500s one of the jobs you could get was as a "groom of the stool"?

These are some of the bizarre factoids I read about in this amusing book. It is a history book unlike any other you are likely to read in school. In it, the author tells about everything from how the Olympics started (naked) to hairstyles of the rich and famous in the 1700s (held up with beef lard) to the history of underwear (the word "underpants" didn't appear in a dictionary until the 1930s). You can find out where the word "dracula" came from, how and why the Great Wall of China was built, and how Coca-Cola was invented.

I also really appreciated how she set the (hi-)story straight on many popular myths. She mentions that Thomas Edison did NOT invent the electric light (that would be Humphry Davy, 50 years earlier) and explains why we recognize Christopher Columbus as the "discoverer" of the Americas even though Leif Eriksson (a Norseman) got here almost 500 years earlier. She even explains Daylight Saving Time, one of my most hated events! Benjamin Franklin suggested it in an newspaper editorial — as a joke!

So, though I am not a fan of studying history the old-fashioned way, I really did enjoy this history book. I learned so much. For example, I never realized how useful urine was. Did you know that ancient Romans used to brush their teeth with it and that Vikings would mix it with the lanolin in sheep's wool to make soap? If this kind of information makes you go "Ew! Tell me more!", then this book is for you!

By the way, the "groom of the stool" I mentioned above? He was the king's butt wiper. Yup, the butt wiper.

(Last modified:04/17/2008)


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