The Mental Floss History of the World Review
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On the newsstand, somewhere in between The Economist and The Onion, youíll find a quirky magazine called mental_floss. I have to confess, itís a personal favorite of mine. The articles each month run the full gamut of possible topics, offering interesting facts, brief yet insightful interpretations, and loads upon loads of snaky wit. Where else can you find an article on the history of ice (yes, the stuff in your freezer) next to one on the impact of comic book superheroes on real-world problems (Superman helped bring down the KKK)? And there are puzzles, quizzes, trivia lists, and many other favorites that will let you feel just a little smarter than the guy next to you, whether you deserve to or not.

Now the editors of mental_floss have completed their first book, the fittingly titled The Mental Floss History of the World. While the scattershot approach of the magazine is fun, thereís something more satisfying in a work like this, one that provides an overarching context for a slew of names, dates, places, and statistics. The cover promo touts this ultra-hip textbook as ďAn Irreverent Romp Through Civilizationís Best Bits,Ē which, while managing to sound vaguely dirty, nails the essence of this excellent read.

In an act of either brilliant simplicity or hubris, the authors have divided the history of the world, from 60,000 B.C.E. to 2007 C.E., into 12 chapters with an appendix. Each chapter opens with an overview of the major developments of the period. The chapters are then broken down into repeated headings, with sections for which cultures thrived and which failed, positive contributions to society that arose, and the really, really bone-headed mistakes and bad ideas. Each chapter also includes a brief timeline and a collection of interesting numerical statistics.

I have to say that there are two great joys to reading this kind of book. The sheer amount of information thatís distilled into a comprehensible overview of world history is impressive, while the snaky, tongue-in-cheek tone prevents any of it from being weighted down with its own importance. Textbooks may teach you history, but doing so with a little humor keeps things interesting and relatable. Whether describing a brutal dictator as a real bastard or patiently explaining how the Dark Ages werenít actually that dark unless you were a peasant in Europe, the authors have provided an excellent and entertaining description of who we are, who we were, and how we ended up here.

And, yes, you will feel smarter after having read it. Just donít let it go to your head.

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