Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Napoleon’s Hemorrhoids (Book Review)

Originally posted on January 28, 2011

Mason, Phil. (2009). Napoleon’s hemorrhoids (and other small events that changed history. New York: Skyhorse Publishing —delightful book, chock full of brief anecdotes about the little glitches, where things went awfully wrong, close calls, or moments of serendipity. It’s amusing or terrifying to contemplate how things might be different but for… The  author in this book gives just a little more emphasis to British history, although international events are addressed. (In another book titled How George Washington Fleeced the Nation. . . and Other Little Secrets Airbrushed from History (same publisher, 2010) he may take on more American topics.)

The impact of this book for me was twofold. I enjoy history and facts or brief stories, non-fiction stuff, and this was excellent reading for the smallest room in the house. Second,  I realized that all those details about British history in the last few centuries could be magnified to include the little episodes from the histories of all the other countries, far, far more could be written. The book thus serves as a provocative contemplation of the element of chance or fortune in life, a confrontation with those who are deterministic in their perception of events. As the proverb goes, “For want of a nail, a shoe was lost; for want of a shoe, a horse was lost; for want of a horse, a rider was lost; for want of a rider (carrying an essential order or message), a battle was lost; for want of a battle, a crown was lost. And all for the want of a nail.”

All this puts me in mind of another series of books titled “What if…” and subtitled, “Eminent historians imagine what might have been.” (Edited by Robert Cowley; New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons., 1999, 2001).  This is called “counter-factual” history, and again it reveals the deeper textures and narrative of history.  The essays in these anthologies bring alive the predicaments of life—not what happened, but the edge of what else might have happened if only…  It also related to how I’d use sociodramatic methods to study history. What would be the voice-over, the unspoken words of the key players? What would they anticipate happening if a given course of action were pursued—what they recommend versus what their opponents recommend?


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