Whenever I contemplate history, I imagine a dusty old guy with whiskers, a pipe, and a long, boring story that I’m going to be forced to listen to … and memorize. In fact, before I started this book, I had little idea of the depth and breadth of history’s personality. History, you see, is actually a scandalous gossip and a born liar, prone to hyperbole and drunken outbursts. History parties hard and says rude things to the neighbors. Perhaps most of all, history is weird, bizarre, and (once you get rid of all the parts that you’re only supposed to know because “it’s good for you”) fascinating!
Think of this book as history’s unauthorized biography (preferably by Kitty Kelley)—all the juicy bits without the historical relevance getting in the way of a good time. I mean, it’s all well and good that the Founding Fathers founded whatever it is they founded; however, it’s tremendous fun reading about how they foundered! Or what about the first balloon flight? It was a truly poignant moment in humankind’s history (blah, blah, blah), but what’s really cool is what happened when the cameras stopped rolling (I know, no cameras back then, but work with me here): The balloon landed miles away in a small village, and the locals, thinking they were being attacked by an airborne monster, tore it to pieces, tied it to the tail of a horse, and paraded the conquered beast up and down the road. Now that’s history one can get excited about! Why? Not because those villagers were idiots (no matter what I call them), but because this totally awesome tidbit doesn’t usually make it into the footnotes of history textbooks. And that’s too bad, because those villagers’ actions tell us just as much about eighteenth century France as the actual balloon launch.
The stories I selected for Bizarre History don’t attempt to make sense of the past, but they do show us how far we’ve come and the long journey we have yet before us.
But seriously, we can learn from history—even this drunken stepchild of history that revels in our foolish behavior over the thousands of years in which we’ve been taking notes as well as in the silly things we believe to be true today.