Friday, November 19, 2010
The Mental Floss History of the World: An Irreverent Romp Through Civilization's Best Bits is the book I read while I was in the hospital (see earlier post). I loved the witty writing as well as the content, despite not being much of a history buff or nonfiction reader. I especially enjoyed the coverage on the early historical periods. By early I mean early: organized in chronological order, Chapter 1 starts at 60,000 BC and doesn't romp through the 1800's until page 266.
Now I know the difference between the Mayans and the Aztecs. And I would love to return to Rome for another guided tour of the city, where I first heard mention of the Etruscans and the Moors; it's nice to have this historical reference now.
The authors also did a good job with China. My brother and I spent a few childhood summers staying with relatives in Taiwan to learn Chinese. I barely remember the Chinese idioms and morality stories that we were taught, but can easily recite the Chinese dynasties in chronological order (rote learning works!). And the authors actually pointed out the key events in each of those dynasties, sometimes against the backdrop of what was happening concurrently in Europe.
This book is a must-read for anyone who loves to inject trivia into conversations.
On a more philosophical note, it's interesting that in the developed world today, people expect and almost demand a leisure-filled and meaningful life. Throughout the ages, 99% of the people were poor and suffering, toiling hours on end to survive from hand to mouth. (Interestingly, this book notes that the Jews were persecuted in every period of history.) Few ancestors seemed to be searching for self-fulfilment; there were so many mass deaths brought on randomly by lawlessness, plagues and wars, regardless of social class or geography. Understanding that past generations lived in ignorance and general insignificance makes me feel even more grateful for the abundance in my life.