Friday, September 08, 2006

Damnable Facts

The Awful Truths by Brian Thomsen, Illustrations by James Fallone, Collins Books.

So most folk, even with a limited exposure to this journal, will know I'm a bit of a contrarian (see my recent note on Labor Day, below), and while I don't subscribe to the "everything you know is wrong" school, I do believe that "everything you know should be held up to the light and shaken a bit every so often". So my friend Brian sent me his latest book in ringbound uncorrected page proofs, and made me promise I would not talk about it until after it hit its street date.

I've known Brian for years, and he is often that "friend from New York" who sends me books (usually starting the offer with "I have an extra copy of THIS" or "I was in a used bookstore and found an old copy of THAT"). We talk on a regular basis, and so for the months before the release of this volume, our phone conversations have included his most recent excavation. Just so you know where I'm coming from on this.

The Awful Truths is a collection of short-short essays on things that everyone knows which are, of course, wrong, or at least slanted. Saint Patrick? Not an Irishman. Baseball? Not created in Cooperstown (and forget about Doubleday), Emancipation Proclamation? Didn't free all the slaves. Jimi Hendrix? Former paratrooper. Tight, nice little essays. And while some of it involves a little wiggle room in the titles (The Emancipation Proclamation DID free the slaves - in the rebellious states), it makes for good reading of the type that you can split the book open at any point and pull out a couple good stories.

And being a contrarian, I knew a lot of these, so my experience was "knew that, knew that, Ooo that's interesting". Some of the truths are little nuanced (Doubleday was PROBABLY not the inventor of baseball, and Nathan Hale was a Terrorist IF you were a Tory). And while he handles pop history as well as politics, Brian doles out pain across the political spectrum, from the ugly reminder that the Democrats were the party of segregation for a good chunk of our history since the Civil War, to his last entry, linking "Baghdad Bob", the reality-challenged master of the Baath party propaganda during the Iraq war, with the current administration's mad spin-cycle following the debacle of Katrina. But I think he's going to catch the most flack from Star Trek fans by attributing its later incarnations to Baywatch.

And being a contrarian, of course I am not just interested in what we believe in, but why we believe in what we believe, whether it be from cultural blinders, patriotic education, or a willingness to swallow what "everyone knows". But the book is a cornucopia of cool stuff, challenges to convention wisdom, and a great starting point, even if you don't agree with all the truths so portrayed.

And for the moment, he's run out of new truths to hit me with.

At least until he starts working on the next volume.

More later,