Book Review: History’s Worst Inventions

The people in this book set out to change the world with their brilliant new discovery or design. At best, they failed monumentally; at worse, they changed the world in ways for which no one will thank them. “History’s Worst Inventions” is an entertaining look at the failures of celebrated inventors and less well-known (for good reason) pioneers. The book includes the parachute-overcoat (its inventor leapt from the Eiffel Tower to demonstrate it and plunged to his death), Trevethick’s locomotive (too heavy for its rails and broke them), Soviet anti-tank dogs (with mines strapped to their backs, they turned on their owners and blew up an entire Red Army division) and TGN1412 (the drug which, in its 2006 clinical trial, nearly killed its test subjects). A compendium of cock-ups, “History’s Worst Inventions” provides a clear warning – it’s all too easy to go down in history as an idiot!

Author: Eric Chaline

Rating: 3.5/5

I’m gonna be honest, this was a book that I 100% judged by its cover.

I was looking through the bargain section of a bookstore and this cover actually made me chuckle. I was in a bit of a rush so I said screw it and bought the book without even looking inside.

I was not dissapointed.

Some of the inventions in the book are considered bad by today’s standard, but were pretty revolutionary at the time. Some of the inventions were pretty ridiculous, no matter when they were invented.

History’s Worst Inventions doesn’t come in novel form. Its got more of a textbook feeling to it.

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend reading it all in one go, but having it as a coffee table kind of book really suits its layout.

As you probably know already I’m a big history lover, so a chance to read about some bizarre inventions by known and unknown inventors is really interesting.

Each “invention” has a few pages dedicated to it, whether it’s for giving a brief history, story, or just explaining what the product was.

What I really appreciated about it though, was the fact that it had photographs for each invention, and sidebars for each that would give the invention’s main culprits, the motivation, and the damage done. The second sidebar assesses the inventions fate: Never Got Off the Ground, Didn’t work in practice, or even Killed Its Inventor.

In my opinion, Eric Chaline was very aware of what History’s Worst Inventions was all about, and used a short write up, photos, and sidebars in a really effective way that made the whole reading process much easier and much more enjoyable.

I gave it a 3.5/5 for two reasons.

The first reason is because it is pretty clear of personal biases for some of the inventions. There are a few debatable inventions that Chaline claims have been bad or disastrous, but I think they have had some good outcomes too.

The second reason for the average rating is because I judged the book by its cover. If I had looked inside, I would have seen that a good number of the “inventions” didn’t fit into the square bike wheel category (silly things that obviously didn’t work).

For example, one of the “inventions” was biological warfare. Now I know that it technically was invented and it was bad for everyone involved, but I was expecting more of the square bike wheel category of inventions, and there are a fair number similar to biological warfare that take a pretty serious turn to a fairly humorous book.

History’s Worst Inventions is a pretty comical read when it’s not following some of the more serious inventions, and it shouldn’t take too long to get through the whole thing.

And yes… I have learned the age old lesson. Don’t judge a book by its cover.

I’d love to hear from you about some bizarre things that have been invented, or attempted throughout history. Let me know in the comments below.

Next week I’m gonna take a look at another manga I’ve really enjoyed featuring a dude with a reallllllllly big sword.

Stay tuned!

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One response

  1. Pingback: Weekly Recap « On My Bookshelf

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