This potpourri of pop history presents tales of bad calls and unanswered calls, of mishaps, mayhem, murder and a few innocent mistakes.
An aficionado of misfortune, Farquhar (Secret Lives of the Tsars: Three Centuries of Autocracy, Debauchery, Betrayal, Murder, and Madness from Romanov Russia, 2014, etc.) blithely notes something woeful for each day of the calendar. Whether these daily highlights of difficult times are the handiwork of Mother Nature, malicious despots, mysterious dastards or some feckless nincompoops, it’s a tough year, to be sure. Proper governance certainly suffered under Louisiana’s Earl Long (1895-1960), not to mention the congressman who voted to shut down the government and then berated a federal worker about a closed park. Folks in showbiz have had bad luck, too—e.g., John Wayne’s colossal cinematic flop about the Alamo and Eddie Fisher’s connubial loss to Richard Burton. There was the awful day that Ivan the Terrible knocked off his son and heir because he had objected when his father kicked his pregnant wife, and there was the pathetic case of William III, who died in 1702 after his horse tripped over a molehill. Indeed, the text is replete with the character defects of misbehaving royals, one of the author’s specialties. Many of the hard-luck stories, like the adventure of the Donner Party, will be familiar to sometimes-aghast and frequently amused readers. There are the unfortunate days of Lincoln’s widow, Lance Armstrong off the bike, Vlad the Impaler (aka “Dracula”) and the dark times of Richard Nixon. The facts of this passing parade of perfidious knaves, nasty poltroons, incompetent liars and just some unlucky folk who slipped on bygone banana peels make for leisurely reading—and it’s surely a story to be continued.
Candid snapshots of some truly bad days in the bleak annals of civilization.