Title: The Smart Aleck's Guide to American History
Author: Adam Selzer
Edition: Paperback (Delacorte Press, 2009)
How I Came By This Book: Adam Selzer was one of the authors who came to the Teen Book Festival in Rochester earlier this year. I snagged this book from the library before it was put into the display case because after flipping through it I realized that if I didn't read it right away I was going to explode.
About the Author: Adam Selzer is the author of How to Get Suspended and Influence People, Pirates of the Retail Wasteland, I Put a Spell on You, and Andrew North Blows Up the World. He grew up in the suburbs of Des Moines and now lives in downtown Chicago, where he can write in a different coffee shop every day without even leaving his neighborhood. In addition to his work as a tour guide and assistant ghostbuster (really), he moonlights as a rock star. Check him out on the Web at www.adamselzer.com.
Synopsis: Do you know America? No, I mean, do you really know America? Would you recognize John Adams in a lineup? Do you have any idea what was going on around here before 1776? Hmmm, I thought not. Well, you really need this book.
With the help of this book, you'll learn a nifty mnemonic device that will let you memorize all the forgettable presidents between Lincoln and Van Buren in order! (Spoiler alert: it involves pickles!) With the help of this book, you'll learn to concisely explain what World War I was all about. (Okay, just kidding about that last one. No one can do that.)
Not only will The Smart Aleck's Guide to American History increase your sorry historical knowledge, it will crack you up and give you material you can use to throw your teachers off-balance for entire class periods. Identify their lies! Point out their half-truths! And possibly, just possibly, get some extra credit.
Review: I'm a huge history nerd. No, really. I have a B.A. in history. I read books about history. I even bore you all with facts about history (see my Villain Week Day Six post). But you know what I don't do? American history. Yes, yes, I know. I'm an American. I should know this stuff. The thing is, that I do know it. I just don't really find it interesting. I was inundated and indoctrinated with American history for, you know, 13 years of my life. (A big shout-out to my teachers from Kindergarten to 12th grade!) What I want to learn about is other people. Other periods of time. So why in the hell did I find myself devouring a book about American history? Because it's frakking hilarious.
I've never read any of Selzer's books, but his humor makes me wish that I had. In fact, I'd like to see him do other Smart Aleck's guides (perhaps Ancient Greece???? *pleading looking in my eyes*). For those of you who are looking at the title or the synopsis and going, "A book about American history? Bor-ing." you are so wrong it's not even funny.
From the first page, Selzer has you laughing out loud (and learning!) with his recounting of the history of the U.S. of A. Going from the earliest parts of history to the 2008 election, Selzer takes the reader on a fascinating romp through the ages. With features like "Stupid Hats of History," mnemonic devices like "Have this pickle, then five pickles, buddy!" (Harrison, Tyler, Polk, Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce, and Buchanan), and devoting the penultimate chapter to going through the years 1947-1989 using Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire," Selzer takes what I (and many others) see as a dry boring subject and turns it into something you can enjoy.
My favorite part of this book are the mini-quizzes at the end of each chapter to help you "review." You'll find such deep questions as:
- Are you going to eat that pickle?
- Who was better-looking, Lewis or Clark?
- What are some good ways to defend yourself against Civil War reenactors who disagree with your interpretation of the war? Keep in mind: some of these guys never wash their uniforms so they can get that authentic odor. If you come up with a good answer to this, send it in. Fast. Please. And keep in mind that we've tried restraining orders and holographic ghosts of Abe Lincoln.
- What sort of mustache would you have grown during the war? (Girls: You have to answer this one, too. We're just trying to be fair.)
- Which animal did Winston Churchill look most like?
You do actually learn things from this book and it clears up a lot of misconceptions and lies that are used to
Things I learned from reading this book:
-One of the past presidents may have been gay (and no, I don't mean Abe Lincoln). (And yes, this fact does make me cheer inside. :D)
-Czar Nicholas II of Russia and King George V of England look like they could be twins.
-Barney mugging and flapper slang are the bee's knees!
-Teddy Roosevelt's daughter, Alice, is cooler than you.
-Even though he ended up doing something ridiculously stupid, General Custer was a genius who made general by the age of twenty-three. I'm twenty-six and still have trouble getting motivated enough to do laundry.
I'm giving The Smart Aleck's Guide to American History 5 out of 5 Gabriels.