Beyond Bestsellers: It’s Been Weird

By Emily Z.

Well, hello there.
Are you ready for the end?
The grand finale of our Weird History sojourn?
Oh, and isn’t today also some sort of holiday? It’s not as though I’ve been waiting for Halloween since last November. And I certainly don’t have relevant history books to talk about…

Or maybe I do! Yes, though just a few. These are my final strange and/or creepy history titles for you to savor as we wrap up this weirdness.

  Wasteland: the Great War and the Origins of Modern Horror by W. Scott Poole

As a longtime horror fan and self-diagnosed history weirdo, this is the kind of book I’m always on the lookout for, one that attempts to trace the early seeds of horror as entertainment. While humans have long reveled in a spooky tale, most of us today wouldn’t pinpoint the 1910s and 20s as a hotbed of Goth culture. If anything, the Victorians are the ones awarded that honor, what with their endless séances, spirit photography,  and haunted mansions. Poole posits an intriguing theory about the ways World War I’s devastation caused a shift in popular culture, helping to lightly curdle a generation’s subconscious with despair. He ties popular books and films of the time (Nosferatu, Kafka, Lovecraft, Lang, etc) to the disillusionment that followed the war to end all wars. Whether or not you agree with Poole’s conclusions, he offers an engaging, curious, and eerie examination of early twentieth century society and popular culture.

 The Ravenmaster by Christopher Skaife

A history of the Tower of London has never been rendered more personal and charming. Most of us are aware of its long, grim legacy, but not nearly enough people have kept up with the fabled ravens that have live there for centuries. Happily, our friendly neighborhood Yoeman Warder and Ravenmaster Christopher Skaife penned this book sharing a new history of The Tower. In it we are treated to a bit of his history (especially how he came to live in The Tower, which isn’t easy to manage) along with his favorite tidbits of Tower lore. And of course, he has a lot to say about his beloved flock of ravens and the ancient legend that surrounds them. I heartily endorse the audio edition as it is read by the author in his delightful Cockney accent.

 

 The Royal Art of Poison by Eleanor Herman

Poisoning is often tied to tantalizing scandals, large or small and political or personal. Then there are the innumerable, accidental self-poisonings throughout history (due to issues with lead-based cosmetics, formaldehyde-laced milk, and arsenic in …everything). Here, Herman digs up the delightfully morbid dirt on a veritable who’s who of polluted plutocrats, from Henry the VIII’s dad to Napoleon as well as an unfortunate number of royal mistresses. I enjoyed learning about the wacky methods once used to detect, avoid, and disperse poisons (it wasn’t always in the wine) and the surprising etymology of the word “credenza” especially.

 

Now, finally, many many thanks to Lindsey for making a suitably strange history list for us. Unsolved history is the weirdest of all!

Come back soon (tomorrow) for our next Beyond Bestsellers theme: Magical Realism

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