Thursday, November 3, 2016

Hideous History Death & Destruction by Sandra Lawrence

This collection of historical facts looked really fun, but it was a little disappointing in the end.

The introduction talks about learning from the past to improve the future - "...Maybe, if we know about it, we can stop it from happening again." But this lofty goal is rather quickly forgotten - really, this is just a collection of gory and gruesome stories. And that's ok! OWN IT Hideous History! Kids love weird, creepy, and gruesome facts!

The selection includes Boudica (often known as Boudicea) and after an action and gore-packed retelling of her legend, discusses the truth behind her existence and culture. Vlad Dracula also has a somewhat balanced discussion of the history surrounding his legend. The French Revolution isn't really something you can pack into four pages, so it's just a collection of some of the more gruesome stories and some speculation about the causes. There are two pages of stories about highwaymen in London, including Spring-Heeled Jack. Pirates includes stories of some of the most well-known pirates,  including some women, from the 17th and 18th centuries.

By this point, the book has mostly abandoned any pretense of educational value or balanced depiction of historical figures and is mostly just going for the gruesome. The rest of the book includes stories of the Chicago Death Hotel, Empress Wu Zetian, Al Capone, the deaths of several Roman emperors, and a section on Vikings that was extremely one-sided, sticking to the most common gory historical myths and hardly touching on their civilization as a whole. Richard III is not a surprise, but the Boston Tea Party is, considering that a major point (included in the book) is that no one was killed or attacked and only one man injured by accident. This is followed by Rasputin, which is definitely gory, and then the Civil War - but specifically its technology. Which...isn't really gory?

There is an index, glossary, and acknowledgements but no sources or bibliography listed. The book is illustrated with colorful cartoons that don't over-emphasize the blood and gore but add a graphic touch to the collection. The writing veers from matter-of-fact retellings of events to occasional mentions of characters' feelings and behavior and the tone varies as well, sometimes being more in a storytelling vein and sometimes sounding more factual. It sticks pretty firmly with familiar, (i.e. male) historical figures and only includes a few non-Western examples.

Verdict: This is most definitely not the book to hand to serious history students or to use as an example of historical research. It's not well-organized, doesn't even really stick to its own designation of a collection of "grim, gruesome, and gory" historical facts and there was at least one typo (page 38, if you're interested). However, I don't regret purchasing it and its companion volume, Trials and Treachery and I enjoyed reading it. It is accurate? No. It is fun? Absolutely! It's one of those books that kids will enjoy reading and picking up tidbits from and that you can use to inspire them to read further and research the topics in more depth and accuracy. An additional purchase for light reading.

ISBN: 9781499800821; Published 2016 by little bee; Purchased for the library

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