History-Making Mistakes

Or perhaps more accurately “Mistakes Making History.” Look around. Do you think the world got this way on purpose? The best-laid plans of mice and men often do go awry, and this book is about the awry part of that phrase. Much of history happened not because of careful planning by great leaders but because of mistakes made by them and others. In this book we take a look at one hundred decisions, actions, and just plain accidents that changed the course of history. To qualify as a mistake, the error has to be something that the person making it knew better or should have known better than to make. Being outwitted is not a mistake; doing something so stupid that any reasonable person would know it would cost you the battle, your kingdom, or your life is a mistake.

Life was not always the same as it is today. We view the past through the lens of today, as modern people looking at it from today’s perspective. In ancient Rome, communications between cities could take days, not seconds, and the worldview of a Saxon noble or a Crusader is a far cry from yours or even anything you have seen in the movies. Honor and faith to them were as important as wealth or status is today. Context is important. By necessity, the entries in this book are short. That limits, perhaps mercifully, detailed explanations of the time and attitudes in which the mistake took place. The story of each mistake begins by setting it in context. Because these mistakes were world-changing events, many have books or whole libraries’ worth of books written about them. Do seek out books to read further if something really interests you. History becomes more fascinating the deeper you delve into it.

In this age when every sniffle and stutter is recorded and rebroadcast hundreds of times, it is easy to see that no one is perfect, and we are constantly reminded that to err is human. People make mistakes—some of them whoppers—and the great leaders of history managed to be mistaken just as often as are the much-scrutinized politicians of today. Some of those mistakes changed the course of history for the entire world or at least for a continent.

There may be a philosophical message hidden among this survey of the stumbles and missteps on the march of history. Feel free to seek it out. But for the most part, whether in a war or in the bedroom, the great mistakes of the past are fun to read about, and that is the point of this book. It can even be a little reassuring that so many have blundered so often in the past and yet we all survive and even thrive. Looking at the devious route the world took to get here also provides insight into the illogical, often confusing, but always fascinating time we live in now.

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