Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Smart Aleck's Guide to American History by Adam Selzer

Were you aware that George Washington was well known for crying like a little girl in public? Or that Ben Franklin used to take so-called “air baths” as an excuse to wander around the house naked? I don’t know about you, but I don’t remember learning these little factoids about our nation’s founding fathers in my history class! The Smart Aleck’s Guide to American History, written by Adam Selzer and staff, presents our country’s history from the earliest American settlers to the election of President Obama in a sassy and sarcastic, yet informative way. This history guide leaves the typical spewing names of battles and dates in the dust.

Reading the Smart Aleck’s Guide felt as if I was talking to a friend—the one loudmouth that says any and everything…kind of obnoxious, but being funny enough that you can overlook that. The basis of the book is factual history, written with a witty twist including oddball footnotes (i.e. “The sailors on the Mayflower called the Pilgrims “glib-glabbety puke stockings”. Yes, the word “puke”, along with most of the swearwords people use today, had been in common use for centuries then.”) and big pictures with snarky captions (under a picture of Civil War soldier donning similar white beards: “Either a 1917 reunion of Civil War soldiers in Washington, D.C., or a Colonel Sanders look-alike contest”.).

Also in the book, small recurring blurbs can be found throughout such as “Stupid Hats of History” (complete with photos, of course) and “Great Myths of History”, debunking many commonly-taught historical falsehoods. At the end of each chapter, there are vocab words, a section titled “Some of the Stuff We Missed” and amusing essay questions such as “What are some good ways to defend yourself against Civil War reenactors who disagree with your interpretation of the war?” or “Who was a bigger jerk, Hitler or Stalin?”.

Teachers beware if assigning this book, as its stated purpose to the reader is to “throw your teachers off-balance for entire class periods” and “identify their lies and half-truths!”. What else could you expect though from a self-proclaimed smart aleck? It’s all part of the theme. In all honestly, I found this book extremely entertaining, offering historical knowledge in a way I’ve never experienced before…sarcastic, witty, sometimes rude, but chockfull of genuine information. For any kid (or adult) who doesn’t respond to the typical teaching format of history or for any reluctant readers, this book could be a fantastic opportunity for them to be engaged while learning a ton of our country’s history (and getting major laughs out of it too).  


Adam Selzer said...

Glad you liked it! Our first Shakespeare guide rolled this week, with many more to come! Smart Aleck's Guide

amberK said...

Hi Sarah! I love the way you described this book! Your tone made this story seem so inviting. Plus, the fact that you said reading it seemed as if you were talking to a friend just is so appealing, as sarcastic and witty is how me and my friends are. I think that this type of writing could really intrigue students and could perhaps get them interested in history and reading; they may want to find out more about one aspect of history because they read it in this book.

runner4life23 said...

This novel sounds very interesting and looks like an immensely entertaining read, however, I consider it to be definite hazard for jr./high school students because they might engage with the "bad" information instead. To me, these students would learn and memorize that in placement of the information they are suppose to learn for class. This is not the first time I have encountered a book that unveils the hidden truths of historical people. In my second year of college I read the novel, Secret Lives of Great Artists by Elizabeth Lunday. Like I stated before, I read this novel in college and likewise, we talked about both sides of the information, however, most importantly we used the information of their achievements instead of the "gossip". Nevertheless, this book was not nominated as "one of the best in class resources to learn from", but for reluctant readers. I definitely consider that any reluctant reader can pick this novel up and learn from it while reading :)

Demitra said...

As a history major, I can firmly say that some history lessons can be dry and boring. This book sounds like it is the complete opposite of a uninteresting litany of dates and important names! Though it made it onto a YA list, I think this book could appeal to anyone from about 4th grade and up; both adults and children will most likely enjoy the sarcastically funny facts. I know I love learning factoid trivia, especially when its funny. As a fellow smart aleck, this book has my name written all over it!

Nicole Dahl said...

Sarah, your review really makes me want to read this book! I am not the biggest history fan and I think engaging in a book of this sort would make learning about the facts more interesting and I'd probably remember the information better. I could see how some students who were younger or less mature might not see beyond the sarcasm or use the information other than it is intended but as you mention, I think this could be a great alternative for reluctant readers, to show them that reading (and learning) can be fun or to those who don't respond well to the typical teaching format.