Reviewed by Richard Tutin
We often forget that recorded history has many dimensions. While many complain that they have only be taught or shown one side of historical events – usually that of the winners – it doesn’t take long before other stories begin to emerge. Some of these other stories are very serious and should be told. Other stories are not so serious but still should be told. Through it all we gain a full appreciation of the event and the participating characters who were either heroic or foolish while thinking that they were heroic.
Comedian and broadcaster Mikey Robins brings his interest in history and his comedic sense of humour to bear on historical events that clearly demonstrate human stupidity at its finest. Many of these stories have been swept under the carpet so that more creative and positive ones can have centre stage. Robins’ preference is to bring them into the open so readers can judge for themselves what can happen when certain individuals are allowed to let their ideas and actions have full reign to the detriment of everyone around them.
Though I was aware of some of the tales Robins has included in this collection I wasn’t prepared for the way in which the United States postal service was used at one time as a way of transporting children to and from their home after visiting relatives. While legal at the time it makes one wonder how the children themselves reacted to being regarded as packages rather than human beings. Robins tells this story with all the sarcasm it deserves.
One story I did enjoy is the patent that Ross Eugene Long filed for an animal toy that judging by its length and size was nothing more than a stick. The patent was successfully signed off by the US Patents Office in 2002. I thought of that recently when I saw a dog carting a stick in its mouth while going on a walk with its owner.
Robin’s coverage of these historical stories is not restricted just one or two ages or centuries. It appears that humanity has been walking hand in hand with stupidity and incompetence since time immemorial. Often the thinking behind a particular act or decision is the thought that it was a good idea at the time. This includes the rather interesting decision to introduce rabbits and foxes to the Australian landscape so that some could continue their love of hunting these creatures in the new world. The issue with these decisions and others like them is that no one took the time and trouble to consider some of the consequences that have literally plagued later generations as they figure out ways to control them.
Robins’ book is a great read. It reinforces that wonderful adage “There but for the Grace of God go I”. The collection brings together some of the worst humanity has to offer while reminding us that there are many stories where the best of humanity shines and has led the way over the centuries.
Mikey Robins is one of Australia’s most well-known comedians and broadcasters. He was a member of The Castanet Cub and spent seven years as the host of Triple J’s National Breakfast Show. He has written for newspapers and magazines including GQ and Men’s Style and is the cohost of Heroes, Howlers and the Rest is History, a podcast that takes a quizzical look at some of history’s quirkiest moments and shows how many key events in history have been shaped by serendipity, moments of madness and bizarre twists of fate.
Idiots, Follies and Misadventures
by Mikey Robins
Simon & Schuster Australia
ISBN 978 176110 711 5