Monday, April 24, 2017

Book Review: Brief Histories of Everyday Objects by Andy Warner

Brief Histories of Everyday Objects written and drawn by Andy Warner

Many common objects have interesting and unexpected histories and legends attached to them. This volume tells the stories of forty-five such items. Most tellings have some authentic history, though many items like tea and dice are so ancient as to have no definitive origin story attached. Many cultures have come up with common objects. Making a claim for uniqueness or originality is not always possible. Author Andy Warner has managed to find common threads and running gags to tie items together.

The information provided by the book is more like cocktail party trivia than in-depth history. Each item is covered in four pages through cartoons, so detailed accounts are virtually impossible. Often, entertaining stories are favored over origins or creations. The bit about barbed wire is all about the Texas cattle wars, when ranchers used the stuff to keep wandering herds off their property. The part about stamps is devoted to the guy who came up with postcards (so why isn't the four-pager called "Postcards" instead of "Stamps"?).  The trivia is interesting but feather-weight. Other stories, like the origins of velcro and microwave ovens, are very familiar.

The book is entertaining, but there's a lot more sauce than meat served up. Ultimately it's not satisfying.

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