History’s worst decisions by Stephen Weir
There are times when the barriers to starting yet another 400-600 page tome seem insurmountable. One of the great attractions of newspapers, periodicals and magazines is the ‘bitesize’ nuggets of information, easy to read and digest, requiring no long term commitment on the part of the reader. In musical terms, it’s like listening to the ‘sound bites’ of Classic FM compared to the full, unabridged, pieces of Radio 3.
When I came across Stephen Weir’s History’s Worst Decisions, it looked like an ideal text for filling the reading vacuum, without the need of long term commitment to a lengthy narrative. His text is made up of some 50 short ‘vignettes’ of what he claims to be the most disastrous decisions made in the past: beginning as far back as Eve’s seduction of Adam, through Hannibal’s disastrous march over the Alps, to the European introduction of rabbits to Australia, and the missing hyphen that caused NASA to abort the Mariner space mission.
Fortunately, the author assumes that his readers are not fully informed about any of the incidents. In fact, some may appear a little esoteric to the non-historian (for example, Johan de Witt’s exchange of Manhattan for some small Indonesian island, where he thought he could grow nutmeg), but Weir makes them accessible to the lay reader by describing the background of each incident, before exposing the catastrophic nature of the action taken.
An ideal book for reading on buses and trains, or those late few minutes at night before your head hits the pillow.