Dumb History: The Stupidest Mistakes Ever Made by Joey Green (New York: Plume, 2012. 256 pp)

A former contributing editor to National Lampoon and a former advertising copywriter at J. Walter Thompson, Joey Green is the author of more than forty-five books.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Plume Publishing. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”.

Mistakes Make Brilliance 

Everyone makes mistakes, even smart people. To a certain extent, brilliance is a product of multiple failures. It’s easy to credit an inventor with a dazzling idea which benefits society. But we often don’t realize the many failures it took to create such an idea.

This principle caused intrigue in Joey Green’s latest book, Dumb History. I wanted to discover the failures behind the brilliant people in history through humorous short stories.

High on Low Brow Humor, Low on Substance 

Sadly, I found Dumb History lacking. While I don’t want to reject it completely, this book did not live up to my expectations. Granted, I have no previous history with Joey Green and a quick examination of his back catalog supplies evidence of Dumb History sidling up next to the rest of his canon—coffee table books high on low-brow humor and lacking substance.

Dumb History contains no thesis; it meanders through short paragraph stories sharing stupidity as its only connection. For example,

“In ancient Greece, affluent women colored their cheeks and lips with rouge and lipstick from cinnabar, a poisonous red sulfide of mercury” (219).

Supposing this fact is true (I’ll give Green the benefit of the doubt, he does list sources in the back of his book; although without a citation, I don’t want to wade through them), the reader can laugh at the stupidity of others and revel in superior intelligence.

We Need Reason! 

Photo by Carlos Cappaticci

But, I’m not convinced that Green’s reasoning is sound.

In one vignette, Green writes of the stupidity in which the Red Sox engaged when they sold Babe Ruth.

“In 1920, Boston Red Sox owner Harry Frazee sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees for a reported $100,000 and used the money to finance the Broadway musical No, No, Nanette. Although No, No, Nanette became a hit, the Yankees won four World Series during the fifteen years Babe Ruth was in their lineup. The Red Sox did not win the World Series until 2003” (3).

The Red Sox did indeed sell Babe Ruth; the Yankees then won multiple World Series; the Red Sox encountered a century-long championship drought.

However, one fact does not lead to another. Yes, Babe Ruth is a legendary player. But his absence does not guarantee a century of failure. Was it stupid to sell Babe Ruth? Perhaps. Does the trade explain 100 years of failure? No!

A Poorly Reasoned Coffee-Table Book 

I wanted Dumb History to humorously explain how even the brightest people make mistakes. Such a book would inspire people to continue creativity and the pursuit of brilliance. Instead, I found a poorly reasoned coffee-table book.

To a certain extent my disappointment in this book emerges from my unfounded expectations of the book. But, I don’t recommend this book. There are better coffee-table books. There are funnier takes on history.

Verdict: 2 out of 5

Posted by: Donovan Richards
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