Book Reviews

Book Review: On This Day in History Sh!t Went Down by James Fell

I’ve followed author James fell for a while on Facebook. He’s funny and irreverent and an expert on history. The real history, not the fairy tales we’ve been indoctrinated with over the years in school. He’s got a master’s degree in history and has written for the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune. The subject of his master’s thesis was titled, titled Rebellion and the Quest for Social Revolution in Latin America. He’s used to researching the dark side of history that no one talks about.

He also likes to swear, a lot.

Now, he couldn’t swear when he was writing columns for those newspapers, but when he started publishing daily columns about events in history, he found himself swearing an awful lot. Maybe that’s because real history, not the fairy tales, will make you swear a lot. The human race has done some truly evil things.

Then on January 9, 1349, a mob formed in Basel and went in search of the Jewish people in their town. They were always easy to find, because in 1215 the pope had decreed that Jews had to wear a yellow badge at all times to identify themselves. Hitler didn’t invent that shit.

On This Day in History Sh!t Went Down is a collection of those columns he wrote for each day of the year, beginning in 2020. They are still available on substack for free, and he does publish them on his Facebook page. If you’d like them all in one place, though, I’d recommend purchasing this book. I read through it in less than a week and I laughed and cried my way through it at the absurdity of life and the evil people that live it. I don’t think history has ever been this much fun.

And if they didn’t convert, well, St. Bernard of Clairvaux said in the twelfth century that “Killing an infidel makes an honor to a Christian, because it glorifies the Christ.” Meanwhile, Jesus is all “You-fucking-what-when?”

That’s a pretty evil thing to do, but Fell manages to make it funny at the same time. It seems radical Muslims aren’t the only ones who have ever approved of killing those who didn’t believe the same as they did.

Everyone is flawed. Some aren’t just flawed, they’re evil. We should not praise people as heroes, because we will always find reason to be disappointed, crushed, or aghast. However, we can praise heroic acts. Admire the deeds you deem worthy rather than the person behind them. Alternatively, feel free to say fuck them and cancel them from your life. No one is owed your admiration. No one.

The above quote goes along with something I wrote about J.K. Rowling, and something to remember about anyone we try to elevate as a “hero.” Our Founding Fathers were flawed, no matter how hard we try to portray them as god-like. Fell treats everyone with the respect or disdain their actions deserve.

He said that peace should not be purchased at the price of chains and slavery, which was hypocritical as fuck considering how many enslavers were in the room.

Yup, those Founding Fathers.

Less you think every day has something of a serious nature, this is about the day MTV was launched:

The station was credited with launching the “Second British Invasion”—the musical variety; I lost count of how many military/colonizing ones there were—by creating U.S. demand for bands such as The Human League, Billy Idol, Culture Club, Bonnie Tyler, the aforementioned Duran Duran, and people getting A Flock of Seagulls-style haircuts.

There was only one instance where I felt like Fell missed the mark. That also had to do with music and the song Do They Know It’s Christmas?

As for the song itself, let’s review. Starting with the title. Do they know it’s Christmas? Well, being that the majority of Ethiopians are Christian, it’s pretty fucking likely they did, you arrogant asswipes. And the third of the population who are Muslim probably don’t give much of a fuck. What about those lyrics? The ones saying there wouldn’t be any snow in Africa? Snows all the fucking time there, dipshits. Do your fucking homework. The lyrics also proclaim nothing grows on the continent. Ever. The fuck? No. Also: No rain? No flowing rivers? Holy shit this is stupid. The song tells you to thank God because better them suffering than you, and don’t forget to hoist your glass in a toast to the starving children. So Wokeness. Much humanitarian. And no mention of the decades of imperialism that ravaged an entire continent to begin with. Fuck this song. 

There are plenty of things that went wrong with Bob Geldof’s attempts to address the famine in Africa back in the mid-1980s, but this sounds more like he’s being deliberately obtuse about the lyrics. They were designed to get people so wrapped up in their western version of the holiday to stop and think about what was going on elsewhere in the world.

I do recommend the book. Some of my friends and I watch a show called Drunk History, and it reminds me a lot of that. It can be read a day at a time over a year or in the course of a few days, depending on how you feel. It’ll make you laugh, and it will make you think. I learned a few things I was surprised about and some things I was not so surprised about.

The Tea Party, A.K.A. the American Taliban became a thing only a month after President Obama assumed office, and Republicans made every effort to block Obama’s policies no matter what they were. For eight years the racism festered like an infected wound, becoming a major contributor to the election of the blatantly racist and vocal Obama critic Donald Trump to the presidency in 2016.

Yeah, if you worship the golden calf known as Donald Trump, you probably will want to avoid this. Then again, you might learn a thing or two. Either that or you’ll have a stroke.

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