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Throwback Thursday Review: Fascinating Footnotes from History

Audiobook cover of Fascinating Footnotes from History by Giles Milton. Silhouettes of a soldier, pigeons, flag, dodo, ship, and crown rest on a sand coloured backdrop.
Fascinating Footnotes from History by Giles Milton.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐
Duration 12 hrs 36 mins.

Fascinating Footnotes from History is an interesting collection of historical facts and anecdotes, but one which I felt rather let down by as I had expected the facts to be obscure tidbits that deserve to be more widely known.

As the title does not limit the book to a specific era in human history, I had hoped that it would have a much broader scope, and that we would learn interesting information that either accompanies or expands upon the more mainstream historical events. Having grown up reading Horrible Histories books, which accomplish just that in a very simplistic fashion, I was looking forward to seeing what I would discover in a twelve-hour 'adult' audiobook. Unfortunately, this book did not take the approach I had anticipated, seeming instead to be a disparate collection of facts that the author found interesting, regardless of the general public's familiarity with the information. With such a vast wealth of material to choose from it was a shame to see several very well known stories included (such as Agatha Christie's disappearance), as well as some big events (such as the death of Adolf Hitler) which could hardly be called 'footnotes' given their impact. This era of world history is, presumably, of particular interest to the author, as at times it began to feel as though every other story was about Nazis. I felt by the end that it may have been fairer to have marketed it as "Fascinating Facts of WWII and beyond", given the sparse references to anything new and/or prior to the 20th centuary, unless it pertained to another moment in military history or the life of a different politician or dictator.

Perhaps this is unfair and coloured by my disappointment, but given that the blurb promises "one hundred of the quirkiest historical nuggets; eye-stretching stories that read like fiction but are one hundred per cent fact", I was expecting this book to be educational as well as entertaining, and instead it felt like more of a recap. It reminded me of reading reference books that accompany a television series and basically just re-hash the same information with a few extras thrown in for good measure. None of the facts felt particularly unbelievable, though that may simply have been because I was already aware of so much of the information.

The narrator, Ric Jerrom, does a good job of making the history feel accessible and engaging, but - perhaps because I was listening to this book in the evenings and not fully engaged by the material - I did find that his gentle voice had a soothing, soporific quality. His performance is akin to a kind History teacher who isn't flustered by anything; even the sight of you yawning and slumping in your seat a little as the heat of the always-on radiator meets the lull of his voice and the world begins to fade at the edges. That is not to say that his narration was not lively during the parts of the book in which it was given a chance to be, and I am certain that Jerrom would hold my attention far better with different subject matter.

I'd only recommend this audiobook to people who want to listen to a nnicely narrated collection of popular moments in history stripped back to accessible and undemanding soundbytes. For anyone who enjoys more obscure anecdotes from history or is expecting this book to be the culmination of Giles Milton's research for his other projects, it will feel somewhat lacking.

view on audible.co.uk
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