902: Encyclopedia Idiotica by Stephen Weir

by Gerard


902: Weir, Stephen. Encyclopedia Idiotica: History’s Worst Decisions and the People Who Made Them. New York: EYE Quarto, Inc., 2005. 252 pp. ISBN 0-7641-5917-8.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 900: History and Geography
  • 902: Miscellany of history

Imagine only being remembered for the worst or most unintelligent thing you’ve ever done. Your history, rather than a subtle continuum of up and downs, is seen as the outcome of a single, unflattering moment. Stephen Weir’s Encyclopedia Idiotica does just that. From Menelaus’s war all in the name of a runaway wife to King Leopold’s grab for power in Central Africa to the Enron Scandal, Weir’s assessment of history is bleak indeed. While the writing is mildly satirical and meant to showcase some rather insidious blunders, it begins to wear thin after a dozen or so chapters. The fifty events collated here are mostly focused on 20th century Western history.

There were some interesting tidbits, however. For example, in 1991, Gerald Ratner, chief executive of the jewelry company Ratners Group, jokingly called some of his company’s products “crap” and almost immediately devalued his company by around $700 million. Also, the Icelandic colonization of Greenland in the 10th and 11th centuries was more extensive that I realized (until disease and pirate raids forced its abandonment). Weir’s collection, while interesting, is more sad than satisfying. He harps on a few people a little more than most and the writing is a bit more sarcastic than I would have liked, but for a bathroom or a nightstand reader, it works well in small bites.