Why did they make us read those boring history textbooks in school? Even though Tony Perrottet's Napoleon's Privates: 2,500 Years of History Unzipped wasn't available a million years ago when I was in high school, I'll bet there was something, anything, that was better than our crap textbooks.
I'm really enjoying Napoleon's Privates (hmm. That doesn't sound quite right, I realize.). Perrottet, who is also the author of the fun history books Pagan Holiday: On the Trail of Ancient Roman Tourists and The Naked Olympics: The True Story of the Ancient Greek Games, has done a nice job of telling some of history's sauciest stories, including the removal of Napoleon's privates after his death (and their subsequent travels), Hitler's one ball, the development of chastity belts and condoms, and many, many more. Each chapter is only about two to five pages long, and in a move custom designed to endear this author to my heart, he lists related reading and sources at the end of each chapter. It's a cornucopia of further reading suggestions and other histories and biographies that sound too good to pass up. Damn it. I barely had time to get this one read, and now I want to read all the books he used for research!
This book also included a number of handy charts, my favorite of which was titled "How Wretched Were the Impressionists?", in which Perrottet dishes on the following aspects of the artists' lives: childhood, start as artiste, early humiliation, romantic anguish, career low, and wretched dotage. My favorite tidbit was about Edgar Degas: "Despite fascination for ballerinas and women's clothing, never marries. ('Imagine having someone around who at the end of a grueling ay in the studio said, 'that's a nice painting, dear.')" (P. 87.)