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an underground education (book)

first published on oilzine.com

This book professes to teach you everything you need to know about art, sex, business, crime, science, medicine, and other fields of human knowledge. Quite a claim. It does however manage to succeed, albeit in not the most enthralling style (presumably it doesn't teach absolutely everything).

Filled with anecdote after anecdote, it informs you of the little known stories behind the stories: bizarre facts, strange photos, weird true tales. Most of it is captivating, some of it, though, is rather dull. Zacks’ writing style has a bit of a lecturer approach: telling you, rather than just informing you. This makes for a difficult read in parts.

However, this is a minor detraction as, having read the book, I have learnt that:

  • Edison helped develop the electric chair in the hope that it would be named after his rival.
  • It showed the highest-class for royalty to hold court whilst ‘inconvenienced’.
  • James Joyce was a racy old devil.
  • Singer didn’t actually invent the sewing machine.
  • Pope Leo XIII used to endorse a cocaine-laced wine.
  • Farting was actively encouraged in Renaissance times.

So it hasn’t been a complete waste of time. It makes a very interesting read in the most part, and supplements a Catholic education very well.

It’s divided into 10 chapters (art & literature, business, crime & punishment, everyday life, medicine, religion, science, sex, world history, and American history) and the information in each chapter flows very naturally. Zacks also meticulously lists his sources, if you feel the need to check them.

So next time you’re asked to name an achievement by Thomas Edison, you’ll know what to say.

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