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review 2018-01-28 06:56
The Ludicrous Laws of Old London
The Ludicrous Laws of Old London - Nigel Cawthorne

Interesting, but not precisely what it says on the tin.  The title and summary on the back would give the impression that the book is a collection of crazy laws enacted throughout the ages that are still in effect.  There are a few of these sprinkled throughout, but most of the entries are really more a historic overview of London laws through history; laws that seem insane to us now, but made sense to citizens at the time (for good or bad).


As I said, it's still a very engaging and interesting read; I learned heaps about London (did not know, for example that there's a city of London and a City of London (the latter being the 1 square mile section within the old Roman walls).  But I admit when I saw "Ludicrous" in the title, I was expecting something far sillier, the UK version of silly laws I've heard about in America like:


In Gainsville Georgia, you are not allowed to eat fried chicken any other way than using your hands.


In Arizona, having more than two vibrators in your home is illegal. If you own more than two in your house, you can be subject to criminal possession.


In Iowa, it is illegal for a man with a mustache to kiss a woman in public.


In Florida it is illegal for a divorced or a widowed woman to skydive on a Sunday afternoon.  Also, if an elephant is left tied to a parking meter, the parking fee has to be paid just as it would for a vehicle.  


The closest this book comes to this version of ludicrous is a law that states you cannot have a pack of playing cards within one mile of any building storing explosives or ammunition.  Which, I admit, is a stumper.


All in all, a good read; very informative, well-written and entertaining.  Just not silly.

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review 2018-01-26 10:17
Horrible Histories Special: Ireland
Ireland - Terry Deary,Martin Brown

Of the four Horrible Histories I've read so far, this one was the least ... enjoyable isn't the right word, cohesive?  clear? well-written?


I learned a lot, but I was pretty much starting at zero, and I'm left with the feeling that I didn't learn as much as I should.  A lot of start of the book was spent listing all the saints considered "Irish" - and making the common mistake of mentioning Catholics 'worshiping' them.  Any Catholic that paid even a little bit of attention in their catechism classes knows that's idolatry; real Catholics might ask Saints to pray for them; to intercede on their behalf.  It's a small thing, but it bugs me in the same way people say evolution means humans came from monkeys.  Small words can make big differences.


Regardless, I finished the book with the overall impression that the British were awful to the Irish, but so were the Irish awful to the Irish.  Unfortunately, that's about the only thing I knew going into the book, so I'm not sure I'm any better educated now than I was yesterday.  I do have a slightly better idea of the complexity of the 20th century Troubles, but not enough that I'd ever attempt to hold my own in a discussion.


Definitely not their best work.

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review 2018-01-13 09:14
A Short History of Drunkenness
A Short History of Drunkenness - Mark Forsyth

I love Mark Forsyth's writing.  I think I've read (and own) everything he's written and I've yet to be let down.  He's got the dry, British humor in spades and his writing is always excellent.  His original bibliography focused on etymology, but he's lately broken out into short, but focused, histories.  


Forsyth makes it clear from the start that this is not a comprehensive history of drunkenness; that would be a comprehensive history of humanity.  But he does break it down into a very easy to follow, somewhat linear timeline, with each chapter focused on a specific culture, or age.  I don't want to spoil anything for anyone, but it turns out ancient Greeks got a bad rap; when it comes to partying they had nothing on ancient Egyptians.  Or late 19th/early 20th century Russians.  Holy crap.


The book ends in more or less modern times, but Forsyth does revisit America in the last chapter; specifically Prohibition and Did it work?.  Half my family was in Chicago during Prohibition and the other half was in Florida, with a constant stream of 'revenuers' and bootleggers coming through the tiny fishing village called home, so I'm not sure I entirely buy his premise that Prohibition was a success.  On the other hand, my family's history would give me exactly the skewed perspective that would make me dubious.  No matter what my opinion is, his take on Prohibition was fascinating and (to me) an entirely new way of viewing the 18th amendment experiment.  


But the best part, the very best part of the book, for me, is something only a few here will immediately appreciate, and it's this, from a quote in the chapter on the American Wild West:


"The saturnalia commenced on Christmas evening, at the Humboldt [saloon]..."

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review 2018-01-07 04:48
The United States of Absurdity: Untold Stories from American History
The United States of Absurdity: Untold Stories from American History - Dave Anthony,Gareth Reynolds

I'd say this is a perfect book for teens, as a hook to get them interested in history, but the casual use of colourful language disqualifies this book for any educational purposes, never mind the section on the Newport Sex Scandal.  


So it's definitely aimed at adults, but the adults reading it would best enjoy it fi they picked it up for the humor, because while the anecdotes are factual, the subjects and tone are best enjoyed by someone looking for quirky good fun.


With this in mind, I enjoyed the book; it was a humorous, quick read and I learned a few things (I had no idea we had  a straw hat riot).  But I'd like to declare the whole 'how lobotomies became a thing' story as definitely NOT untold.  I've read about Freeman several times in the last few years, so I think it's safe to say that cat is out of the bag.  


I did skip the last section completely (the last 14 pages), except for the last story concerning the Kentucky meat shower; it covers, best I can tell from that sections introduction, stories of absurd things we've done to/with animals.  I'm not even going there.  (Although the Kentucky meat thing had a pretty funny, and totally natural, if unbelievable, explanation.)

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review 2017-12-11 05:44
It Ended Badly: 13 of the Worst Breakups in History
It Ended Badly: Thirteen of the Worst Breakups in History - Jennifer Wright

This was good!  I wasn't sure at the start, because it's pretty clear the author geared her narrative towards women (or men, but really, women) who were battling their way through breakups while reading this book.  But it's easy to get past that and just enjoy the history and the wry humour.  And omg were these people awful.  You expect Nero to be horrible, but - and maybe it's just my general ignorance of Roman history, but not this weirdly horrible.  And Oskar Kokoschka... holy cheese whiz weird, although I think I found it even more bizarre that everybody let him get away with his flavour of weird without seemingly batting an eye.  By the time you get to Norman Mailer, his horribleness almost seems bland by comparison.  Almost.  


This is popular history in its purest form, but it's lively and entertaining while it's being informative.  The source list at the end is a little web-link heavy for my taste, but I'm going with it; I learned a lot and little of it had to do with how these people broke up with their exes. 


I have this in print, but borrowed the audio from the library and while I was a bit hesitant about the narrator at the beginning, I soon changed my mind.  Hillary Huber's performance starts off sounding a bit monotone, but I soon found it works really well with Wright's wry humour and occasional sass.  I particularly enjoyed her narration in the car as it was both calming and often hilarious.


I definitely recommend this (in audio or print) if you're looking for light, breezy and educational.


Book themes for Kwanzaa: Read a book whose cover is primarily red, green or black.


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