Monday, April 07, 2008


History’s Worst Decisions (Stephen Weir, 2005), History’s Greatest Scandals (Ed Wright et. al, 2006), (Murdoch Books/Pier 9).

If you want to occupy part of your holidays – as I have just done – reading about history’s idiots/ idiotics, you can’t go past these two 250-page volumes.

But first, a quiz to test your knowledge of some Very Important Trivia:

(Greatest Scandals): 1. America’s ‘worst president’, who according to e e cummings was ‘the only man, woman or child who could write a simple declarative sentence with seven grammatical errors’.

2. Another US president who was ‘an introvert in an extrovert’s job’ who spent his last night in office drinking, sobbing and praying.

3. He said ‘power is the ultimate aphrodisiac’.

4. Among her lingerie she had a bullet-proof bra.

5. This statement got into Bartlett’s ‘Familiar Quotations’: ‘If “is” means is and never has been, that is one thing. If it means there is none, that was a completely true statement.’

6. When she died at 67 tales persisted that she’d been crushed by a horse while attempting to have sex.

7. ‘Demons made me do it but Oral Roberts cast them out over the phone’.

8. He created headlines like ‘Man Raped by Banana’.

9. This evangelist amassed a personal fortune of $158 million which he stashed in 47 different accounts – and they were only the ones in his name.

10. Neighbours in the Sydney suburb of Palm Beach heard her crying at night for months on end.

(Worst Decisions): 11. He tried to kill his mother, three times with poison, and one by rigging the ceiling to cave in while she lay in bed.

12. This pope lasted only a month before a papal sceptre was broken over him and he was carried off to a monastery.

13. His army was destroyed because the enemy moved backwards faster than his could move forwards.

14. His rabbits migrated faster than any colonizing mammal anywhere in the world.

15. Stanley delivered a territory 80 times larger than Belgium to him, and was then deemed his private property – a personal domain probably without precedent in history.

16. It was then the world’s largest movable object – with four funnels, only three of which were actually usable; one was just for ostentation.

17. He was good in history and weak in geography, and ordered a ridiculous assault with inexperienced soldiers against an impregnable terrain with no strategic importance at all. He also said ‘I don’t understand this squeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilized tribes.’

18. Another military leader ordered operations which resulted in over a million casualties in six months with absolutely no gain whatsoever.

19. He killed half the leadership of his country during two years.

20. ‘This outstandingly safe drug can be given with complete safety to pregnant mothers without adverse effects on mother or child.’ Result: 12,000 born with birth defects, and of those one-third died in their first year.

You get the idea. The authors are British, but the Idiotica covers a good selection from all times and places (the earliest – Adam and Eve!). They write interestingly, but the proof-readers did a poor job (with, for example, a couple of dozen wrongly hyphenated words in the middle of lines).

Richard Rohr says we all need a good experience of humiliation every day. These 80-odd humiliations are of a magnitude that is staggering. You’ll gratefully pray through these chapters, as I did, ‘There but for the grace of God go I… Thank you Lord that my stupidities were played out on a much smaller stage.’ And the famous line from George Santayana kept going through my head: ‘Those who are ignorant of the past are condemned to repeat it.’

1. Warren Harding 2. Richard Nixon 3. Henry Kissinger 4. Imelda Marcos 5. Bill Clinton 6. Catherine the Great 7, Jimmy Swaggart 8. Rev. Canaan Banana, president of Zimbabwe 1980-87) 9. Jim Bakker 10. Evdokia Petrov 11. Nero 12. Benedict V 13. Napoleon 14. Thomas Austin 15. King Leopold 16. The Titanic 17. Winston Churchill (Gallipoli) 18. Douglas Haig 19. Joseph Stalin 20. Drug company Grunenthal’s drug thalidomide.

Rowland Croucher
April 2008

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