Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody by Will Cuppy

I stumbled upon this book, as I have so many others, poking through the bookshelf of Douglas Wilson on Goodreads--always a great source of reading matter. Another entry in the Comic History genre, which ranges from the brilliant (like Sellar and Yeatman's 1066 And All That) to the yawnworthy (I never found the Horrible Histories particularly entertaining or accurate), The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody is dry, irreverent, and a laugh a minute.
It's easy to see the faults in people, I know; and it's harder to see the good. Especially when the good isn't there.
Beginning with Egypt and meandering through most of the rest of world history, this book contains a number of hilarious mini-biographies of quirky well-known figures including Hatshepsut, Lucrezia Borgia, Peter the Great, and Christopher Columbus.
Thutmose II died in 1501 b.c, leaving Hatshepsut face to face with Thutmose III, his nine-year-old son by one of his concubines. Modern research shows that the shoulders, hips, pelvis, and breastbone of Thutmose II had been broken. His nose was deformed, too, as if somebody had let a flatiron slip, and there were symptoms of rat poison. Egyptologists have no idea who did all this.
The humour is so dry as to be nearly undetectable. At its best, the book is simply a retelling of actual history, with one eyebrow raised, like this:
During his fifteen years in Italy, Hannibal never had enough elephants to suit him. Most of the original group succumbed to the climate, and he was always begging Carthage for more, but the people at home were stingy. They would ask if he thought they were made of elephants and what had he done with the elephants they sent before. Sometimes, when he hadn't an elephant to his name, he would manage to wangle a few from somewhere, a feat which strikes me as his greatest claim to our attention.
Illustrated by William Stieg, no less.
Cuppy sticks mainly to the unsympathetic characters of history, but can't resist a few pokes at Charlemagne, Miles Standish, and others. Also, unlike 1066 And All That, he brings in people's love lives, but with a deft touch (of Lucrezia Borgia's affair with a poet he says that "whenever Alfonso was away from home Lucrezia would slip on something comfortable and curl up with a good author").

Like other parody histories, The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody is best enjoyed by those who already know something about history. For these, Cuppy's book will be an excellent refresher course, and a good laugh.

Get The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody from Amazon, The Book Depository, or Open Library.


Lady Bibliophile said...

Oh, this looks so fun! :D

Madeliene Rose said...

I've been looking to read a book like this! I'll definitely add it to my book list! Have you read The Diary of a Nobody by George Grossmith? I think you might like it as well!

Also, I'd like to invite you to visit if you're a book lover. The 'Conversations' section is all about Madeliene Rose meeting characters from novels and writers.

Michele said...

This looks like such a fun read. I'm new to Open Library. Can the ebooks be read on a kindle?

Suzannah said...

Hi, Michele! I think Open Library does provide .mobi files, but I'm not sure. I suggest trying it and seeing.


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