Saturday, May 26, 2012

Review: Death by Petticoat

Death by Petticoat: American History Myths Debunked
by Mary Miley Theobald

Available as: paperback
Pages: 144
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing
Release date: June 5, 2012
Suggested tags: non-fiction, history

From Goodreads:
"Every day stories from American history that are not true are repeated in museums and classrooms across the country. Some are outright fabrications; others contain a kernel of truth that has been embellished over the years. Collaborating with The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Mary Miley Theobald has uncovered the truth behind many widely repeated myth-understandings in our history in Death by Petticoat including:

* Hat makers really were driven mad. They were poisoned by the mercury used in making hats from furs. Their symptoms included hallucinations, tremors, and twitching, which looked like insanity to people of the 17th and 18th centuries--and the phrase "mad as a hatter" came about.

* The idea that portrait painters gave discounts if their subjects posed with one hand inside the vest (so they didn't have to paint fingers and leading to the saying that something "costs an arm and a leg") is strictly myth. It isn't likely that Napoleon, King George III, or George Washington were concerned about getting a discount from their portrait painters.

Pregnant women secluded themselves indoors, uneven stairs were made to trip up burglars, people bathed once a year, women had tiny waists, apprenticeships lasted seven years--
Death by Petticoat reveals the truth about these hysterical historical myth-understandings."

I received this as an ebook from NetGalley.

Death by Petticoat is a collection of fun, brief explanations of historical myths. Each myth is covered in a few paragraphs, making for a sufficient explanation, but I wouldn't have minded a little more depth. Some of the explanations ended a little abruptly, leaving me wishing there was more to it. But the short style makes it perfect for picking up here and there whenever you have a moment: before bed, in a waiting room, over breakfast, etc.

I would recommend this book to history lovers, especially those looking for an interesting, quick read. Serious history buffs may already be familiar with the truths behind the myths, but for the average person with an interest in history, this would probably expand upon their knowledge of the common myths and introduce them to some new ones too. (It did for me!) The ebook version that I read didn't include the photos that the text mentions, but I'm looking forward to picking up a paperback copy when it's released to see how the photos complement the myths.

Overall rating: 3 out of 5 stars