Book Review: "The Mental Floss History of thre United States" by Erik Sass with Will Pearson and Mangesh Hattikudur

Summary from Smarter than a history teacher, funnier than the Founding Fathers, and more American than Alaska, an almost (but not entirely) comprehensive primer on American history (or at least, the good stuff)

In trademark smart aleck style, this is history according to mental_floss, an insightfully accurate and incisively humorous exploration of little-known truths and widely believed falsehoods, which simultaneously exposes some of America's oddest moments, strangest citizens, most egregious frauds, and much, much more.

Ten meaty chapters, peppered with fun trivia, entertainingly cover the essential timeline of the social, political, and cultural happenings of American history and mythbust all the lies teachers told us along the way. Was Abraham Lincoln really a heroic defender of liberty and freedom? Were the Sixties actually a groovy time of peace and love? Has the U.S. always been dependent on foreign oil? mental_floss sets the record straight and shares the fascinating stories behind politics, literature, fashion, televangelism, serial killers, genetic engineering, Yuppies, SPAM, the original Swine Flu, potato chips, rollerskating, mobsters, rum, communists, beaver wars, the rise and fall of irony, and everything else made in the U.S.A.

As a historian, it pains me to hear people complain about how much they hated history in high school. Truth be told, I didn't always have the greatest history teachers. I felt that some of them got roped into their subject and were doing bare minimum. Others loved the subject but were confined by state guidelines of what they had to teach. Even my undergrad history classes tended to be meh because EVERYONE had to take them and no one wanted to be there. It wasn't until I got in my specialized history courses where professors loved what they were teaching that I really got the sense of how awesome and cool history is. And that's exactly the feeling that this book gives off.

This book is pretty much a condensed volume of US history from 23,000 BCE to 2010. Many of the major events in US history are covered as well as minor events that are not really all that well known. The writing is hilarious as well as serious at times. As far as I can tell, facts have been researched and checked but the writers aren't afraid to include humor in the book. There is a lot that I learned in here that sadly I never learned in school but it's also done in a way that makes me want to keep reading and learn more.

In true Mental Floss fashion, there are random facts and trivia throughout the book. One, for some weird reason that stands out to me, says that even to this day there are some Native American tribes still use beaver testicles for aspirin. I have been telling several people this after reading and their reactions are fun to watch. Oh and if you love stats, at the end of every chapter is a section that gives out prices, figures and other numbers that are crucial to the time period.

The only small qualm that I saw in the book was that there was no mention at all about the Chinese Exclusion Act. I was just really hoping that since the book was bringing up a lot of obscure facts and relatively unknown info that they would include in the book as a lot of people still don't realize that it had happened in US history. It just wasn't mentioned at all and also I didn't feel that the Japanese American internment didn't get much mention either. I realize that the authors couldn't include EVERYTHING in the book but as someone who has studied and researched a lot on the topic, it just made me sad to once again see it not included in a history book.

Overall though, this was an EXCELLENT read, chock full of information, fun facts and random trivia that will sure to impress anyone you meet. If you think you don't like history, I suggest giving this book a chance. It's WAY better than any high school history book, in fact I think this book should be supplemental reading for classes. Seriously, I really did love this book and I think anyone who reads this will have a blast with it. Because you know...History CAN be fun! HIGHLY recommended.

The Mental Floss History of the United States by Erik Sass with Will Pearson and Mangesh Hattikudur is published by Harper (2010)

This ARC was provided by the publisher


  1. I love studying US history and enjoyed ALL of my history classes :)


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