If reading history doesn’t make you want to swear like a mom with a red-wine hangover walking barefoot through a LEGO-filled living room, then you’re not reading the right history. This is the hilarious, sweary, and irreverent guide to world history you never knew you needed.
Nazis are bad. The worst kind of bad. There are no very fine people among them. If you disagree, you won’t like this book. Also, fuck you.
Still here? Cool. You are about to receive a history education unlike anything you’ve previously experienced, with 366 profanity-filled tales of triumph and terror, science and stupidity, courage and cowardice. “Sweary Historian” James Fell provides insightful analysis of shit that went down during both ancient and modern times, and everything in between. Behold!
- In 1927, actress Mae West was sent to jail for “corrupting the morals of youth” with her first Broadway play, titled Sex. She served the time and followed up with a play about homosexuality.
- In 1419, church reformers in Prague, vexed over their leader having been burned at the stake, defenestrated city leaders from a high window. They died, because those kinds of Czechs don’t bounce.
- If you were in the province of Shaanxi in China on January 23, 1556, then it sucked to be you. It wasn’t the biggest earthquake ever, but it resulted in the deadliest day in human history.
- In 362 B.C.E. a battle between Greek city states debilitated both sides, making the region ripe for conquering by Phillip of Macedon—aka Alex the Great’s dad—spelling the end of Greek democracy and changing the course of history.
- In 1343, the husband of noblewoman Jeanne de Clisson was unjustly executed by the king of France. Furious, Jeanne became a pirate, selling all her possessions to fund a fleet and exact revenge.
- During World War II, three Dutch teens used their beauty to lure Nazis into the forest with the promise of a good time, then out came the guns and BLAM! They sent them off to Nazi hell.
In this uproarious and informative tour covering all areas and eras of history, Fell reveals a past replete with deeds both noble and despicable. Some were motivated by greed, others generosity. Many dedicated themselves to the art of killing, while others focused their efforts on curing. There have been grave mistakes, and moments of greatness. Across the ages, over 100 billion humans have lived and died, and that is why . . . Shit happens. Every day.
Excerpt from February 2, 1924
I’m Canadian and have done 10-kilometer (6.2 mile) runs in –30° Celsius (–22° Fahrenheit). It’s cold as fuck and frosts up the eyelashes so you can’t see for shit. For this tale it was –46°C (–50°F), because it was way the hell north at the edge of the Arctic Circle and the temperatures were at a twenty-year low. Add in brutal winds, deep snow, and nonexistent visibility and you really just want to stay home and drink whiskey.
But in 1925 children were dying, the disease spreading.
The outbreak of the bacterial infection began in January, and the small town’s sole doctor sent a desperate telegram calling for aid. Diphtheria is a toxin, and a life-saving antitoxin was needed. The nearest place that had serum that could halt the outbreak was located in Anchorage, but the engine on the only airplane that could fly it to Nome was frozen solid. Officials brainstormed and decided to send the serum north to the city of Nenana via train, where relays of mushers driving sled-dog teams would take it 674 frozen-as-fuck miles west to Nome.
One hundred and fifty dogs participated in the relay. Some of them died so children could live. Of more than twenty mushers, most of them Alaskan Natives, several suffered frostbite. The trip was made in a record-breaking five and a half days.
Norwegian musher Gunnar Kaasen and his Balto-led team made the final leg of the perilous journey. He was supposed to be the penultimate musher, but when he arrived at Point Safety at 2:00 a.m. he discovered his replacement was asleep, so he pressed on an additional twenty-five miles to Nome, arriving at 5:30 in the morning on February 2, 1925.
The serum was thawed and administered, and there were no further deaths. Kaasen and Balto became heroes. There is even a statue of Balto, who lived to be fourteen, in New York’s Central Park. Balto was indeed a good boy, but his public status was achieved via being the one to lead the final leg. The best boy on the perilous journey was Togo. Balto traveled fifty-five miles, but Togo, also a Siberian Husky, led a team for almost five times that distance. He ran a whopping 260 miles, almost 40 percent of the entire relay. And he was twelve years old!
Togo lived to be sixteen and sired many puppies. One of his direct descendants, Diesel, starred as his multiple-great-grandfather in a 2019 film titled Togo, alongside bipedal actor Willem Dafoe. It’s an excellent movie. Have tissues ready.
Excerpt from October 25, 1936
Imagine this. It’s 1936 and you’re a teenager in Hitler’s Germany. Membership in the Hitler Youth has just become mandatory, but you say no fucking way because fuck that Nazi bullshit. What do you do? Answer: You become a pirate.
At the time, you were allowed to leave school at age fourteen, but if you were seventeen you were going to get conscripted. If you stayed in school, you’d be forced into the Hitler Youth in order to be indoctrinated into Nazism and work to convert others into the murderous cult. Many young people quit school and formed their own resistance group called the Edelweiss Pirates, and they loved to punch Nazis.
In addition to all the allegiance-to-Hitler stuff, being in the Hitler Youth sucked. It was highly regimented fascist paramilitary bullshit and totally the death of fun. Hitler Youth was boys only; girls were made to be part of the League of German Girls. Edelweiss Pirates were all about freedom of expression and growing long hair and mixing genders and fucking up those Nazi punks.
They numbered in the thousands, and in addition to just enjoying being teens and playing that “degenerate” jazz and blues music and exploring their sexuality, they’d hunt down Hitler Youth patrols and beat the shit out of them on a regular basis. The pirate slogan was “Eternal War on the Hitler Youth.”
Before the outbreak of World War II the pirates were seen as little more than an irritation by the Nazi government, but during the conflict they did things such as gather up Allied propaganda dropped by airplanes and push it through people’s mailboxes to spread the word that Hitler was bad. They also helped German army deserters disappear. They added sugar to the gas tanks of Nazi vehicles, pulled down Nazi flags, and even derailed munitions trains. On October 25, 1944, the Nazis finally took them seriously and Heinrich Himmler, Hitler’s right-hand man, ordered a crackdown. The following month, thirteen people, many of them Edelweiss Pirates, were publicly hanged in Cologne.
The Nazi regime kept up the pressure on the Edelweiss Pirates, imprisoning many and even sending some to concentration camps, but their spirits would not be broken. History was unkind to the pirates, viewing them as criminals rather than a true resistance group. But efforts have been made to rehabilitate their image and view them as an important part of resistance to fascist authority during WWII.
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