“The Pessimist’s Guide to History: An Irresistible Compendium of Catastrophes, Barbarities, Massacres, and Mayhem — From 18 Billion Year Ago to 2007” by Doris Flexner and Stuart Berg Flexner (Harper, 2008)

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Optimists have ruled the world in popularity since the first optimist made a comment about the beautiful weather, leaving the pessimists behind, ignored, and looked down upon; but now that’s all going to change with the “freshly updated” Pessimist’s Guide to History.  For every happy comment, witty repartee, and overly-positive statement, pessimists will now have the fodder to fight back with this reference manual.

The book begins with the most catastrophic event in the history of the universe: the big bang which started all life and everything as we know it.  Then a few entries are dedicated to mass extinctions, destructive meteors, volcanic eruptions, and massive climactic changes.  With the advent of humanity beginning its slow but thorough conquest of the planet, authors Doris Flexner and Stuart Berg Flexner don’t hold back in presenting every horrible, destructive, plague-ridden event throughout history.  The entries vary in length from short quick events: “217 B.C.: One Hundred Cities Destroyed by Killer Quake.  A deadly quake rocked much of North Africa in 217 B.C., demolishing one hundred cities and killing more than fifty thousand people”; to longer entries spanning a couple of pages as more setting, detail, and information is needed about specific horrific events like: “1812: Moscow Burns,” and “1888-1891: Jack the Ripper Terrorizes Whitechapel,” and “1902: Mount Pelée’s Deadly Eruption.

The first third of the book covers the beginning of the universe up to the end of the nineteenth century.  The rest of the book is dedicated to the last hundred-and-seven years bringing the book up to the present with the many terrible events of the last hundred years.  Whether you want to read the book cover to cover, or simply flip through and reference different dates and times, different events, The Pessimist’s Guide to History will have all the horrible and detailed answers you crave.  At the end of the book there is even an extensive index of each event, categorized by the type.  The adamant pessimist will never again be without a horrific comeback.

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Originally written on May 10th 2008 ©Alex C. Telander.