Ever fall asleep during a boring, yawn-inducing history class? Try learning about American history the new, improved LOL way by clicking on The Smart Aleck's Guide to American History by Adam Selzer, or by hopping in your gas guzzler, driving to your local brick-and-mortar book store and picking yourself up a copy of this comical YA take on the founding of the USA.
Caveat: Reading this book may not guarantee higher test scores or improved letter grades, but you WILL learn some pretty cool facts and unusual trivia about America with which to amuse and impress your friends, parents, and teachers.
Yes, finally, someone has discovered an actual USE for history (other than that if you learn history, you’re not doomed to repeat it). And, if you learn ENOUGH about history, you’re not doomed to repeat the class, because you won’t fail it. What more reason for checking out Selzer’s book than that do you need?
The question that’s probably on the tips of your tongues is: “Is it really that cool of a book?” Or, I don’t know, maybe there’s something a little bit more different than that on the tips of your tongues. What you do with your tongue tips is none of my concern.
Still, as cool and funny American history books go (no, that’s NOT an oxymoron, nor is it any other type of moron), I would rate it a 9 out of 10 on the famous Jon Stewart Comedy Scale. I hesitate to rate it any higher, because I don’t want to be the cause of the dreaded Swelled Head Syndrome prevalent among authors of certain books which receive perfect 10's ( not after that last unfortunate occurrence, and the inherent dry cleaning expenses involved, anyway).
The chapters range from Chapter 1 - “The Earliest American Settlers” - to ones like Chapter 3, “A Nation Declines To Bathe”; Chapter 5, “The Gilded Age (Or, Screw The Poor)”; Chapter 9, “World War II (Out Of...?)”; Chapter 10, “1947-89: The ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’ Era”; and Chapter 11, “And On Into The Future.”
You’ll learn that Virginia Dare was “the first white Anglo-Saxon Protestant to be born in America.” Also, that though the Puritans seemed to be rather boring people, they led, on the whole, exciting sex lives. For instance, the author writes on the subject of bundling (where a “a single girl of marrying age” was allowed to spend the night in the same bed with “single male visitors to the house” to “see how they got on”) and premarital sex:
The Puritans actually don’t seem to have thought of premarital sex as a
particularly big deal (though they were certainly against extramarital sex),
but if the bundling led to a pregnancy (as it often did), the couple were
married at once, whether they actually liked each other or not.
We’ve all been taught about Thomas Paine, the author of Common Sense and the pamphlet Rights of Man, but I, for one, had never heard before I read The Smart Aleck's Guide to American History that he had terrible personal hygiene. He rarely bathed, even for his time; in his final years, when he was broke and lonely, his friends declared that he bore “the most disagreeable smell possible.” Though he was a popular bestselling author, “Only six people attended his funeral.”
Facts like the ones Adam Selzer has in this book are often not the ones you’ll hear or read about in a history class. They make the Founding Fathers seem more real, more human, and more worth learning about because of their failings and foibles.
Certain topics are repeated throughout the chapters, like ones titled “Experiments to Try at Home.” One involves starting your own Boston Tea Party. It’s simple to do - just go to a “big merchant company that uses tax breaks to lower its prices and squeeze smaller companies out of business.” Then the fun part begins: “Dress up in war paint and a Mohawk and start throwing their crap out of the store and into the street - see if the manager and the police understand that you’re doing your patriotic duty.”
Each chapter also features “”End-Of-Chapter-Questions,” mostly multiple choice questions, some based on information in the chapter, some not so much, with a handy Answer Key and explanations provided. There are a few True/False and Essay questions sometimes, and discussion topics, like “Who was better looking, George Washington or Thomas Jefferson?” and “Which founding father do you think had the silliest name?” Button Gwinnett, gets my vote. He ended up “being murdered in a bar fight (or a duel, depending on who you believe. The line between ‘bar fight’ and ‘duel’ is often blurry),” as the author puts it. I’d guess this was especially so, depending on the extent of time one spent in the bar consuming alcoholic beverages.
Was there really a “magic bullet” that killed JFK? Did Clinton really inhale? Is the coonskin cap possibly the stupidest hat ever? These are some of the other questions you’ll find the answers to (or an unreasonable, albeit funny, answer to) in The Smart Aleck's Guide to American History. Whether you’re a history buff or a person who doesn’t know George Washington from George Bush, you’re sure to learn something new about America when you read this book, and have plenty of laughs along the way. What more can you ask from a book on American history than that?