I usually bring at least one book with me whenever I leave home. It doesn’t matter whether I’m heading for work, for the movie theatre or for my grandparents’ house: nothing beats a good read when there’s time to kill (say, if you’re stuck in traffic or trapped in an airliner on a four-hour flight). A few days ago as I was getting ready for work, I anticipated the need for a hearty laugh to snap me out of the state of mild depression that being at the office always seems to induce. So I scanned the titles on my library’s humour shelf and settled on an old favourite – Non Campus Mentis, compiled by Anders Henriksson (New York: Workman Publishing, 2001).
Non Campus Mentis is a compilation of bungled attempts at historical analysis collected from real college/university-level term papers and blue book exams. Sources include the work of Professor Henriksson’s own students and the contributions of his colleagues from across the United States and Canada, with some submissions apparently coming out of schools that are among North America’s leading institutions of higher learning. Don’t let it’s compact dimensions fool you: the approximately 150 pages of the slim little volume pack more entertainment value than all the encyclopaedias in the Library of Congress.
When it comes to making history “relevant” and “interesting” Henriksson can give any Durant, Gibbon or Toynbee a run for his money. Non Campus Mentis fed me a complete survey of human history while managing to keep my eyelids fully open and my attention at its peak. Without this book, I would never have known that Alexander the Great actually conquered Japan or that the Zulus were at least partly reponsible for the fall of the Roman Empire. I also discovered that the Ancient Greeks founded the Olympics in about 1896, that Sir Isaac Newton invented the newton (duh!) and that “the Assyrian program of exterminating various ethnic groups generally failed to promote cultural diversity”.
We must thank Professor Henriksson’s able (if perhaps unwitting) collaborators, the student-historians of the U.S. and Canada, for setting the record straight on some hazy matters. For example, were you aware of the crucial role played by Benjamin Franklin (the inventor of the light bulb) during the Revolutionary War, when he persuaded French King George III to help the U.S. in its struggle against tyranny? Are you still labouring under the impression that Friedrich Nietzsche was a philosopher, when in fact he was “a German movie producer who wrote Triumph of the Will and Superman“?
The book will also be of great help to those who need to brush up on their geography. Take North Africa. It lies in the northern part of Africa; therefore it is not in Africa. Canada is the land of milk and chocolate promised to the Israelites. Athena the Hun “rampaged the Balkans as far as France”. And don’t forget that the Nile is a river with some water in it.
Here is just a tiny sample of the many other cutting-edge masterpieces of historical analysis that I found in the pages of this landmark tome (broadly organised by time period and with original spellings retained).
The Ancient World
“Hammurabi was a lawyer who lived from 1600 B.C. to 1200 B.C.”
“Helen of Troy launched a thousand ships with her face. The Trojan War raged between the Greeks and the Tories. The Greeks finally won because they had wooden horses, while the Trojans were only able to fight with their feet.”
“Religion was polyphonic. Featured were gods such as Herod, Mars, and Juice. Persepolis was the god of vegtables.”
“Greek semen ruled the Agean. We know about this thanks to Homer’s story about Ulysees Grant and Iliad, the painful wife he left behind.”
“Hannabelle crossed the Alps with a herd of eliphants and thus invaded Africa.”
From the Middle Ages to the 19th Century
“John Calvin Klein translated the Bible into American so that the people of Geneva could read it.”
“Magellan circumsised the glob.”
“Another problem was that France was full of French people. Dickens made this point in The Tail of Two Sisters, which he required us to read.”
“Anarchy is a system of government headed by an Anarch. Canada, for example, became an anarchy in 1867.”
“Japan became a European country during the Benji Restoration.”
The Twentieth Century
“Lennon ruled in Russia. He was the first zar of the Soviet Union. Eventually he started the NOPE (No Economic Plan) to encourage the peasants. When he died the USSR was run by a five man triumpherate – Stalin, Lenin, Trotsky, Menshevik, and Buchanan.”
“Hitler’s attack on Russia was secretly called ‘Operation Barbarella’. The German invaders were popular for a while in Russia, but their habit of slaughtering innocent civilians tended to give them an image problem. The Russians defended Stalingrad feercely, as the city was named after Lenin.”
“The Pershing Gulf War began when Satan Husane invaided Kiwi and Sandy Arabia.”
And finally, one of my personal favourites: “Stalin, Rosevelt, Churchill, and Truman were known as the ‘Big Three’.”
You don’t need a university degree to enjoy this book, but a thorough grounding in world history will add a different level of appreciation and enjoyment to the whole experience. Certain malapropisms, for example, seem funnier when one links them to their correct origins. Thinking about how the Mughal Empire magically transformed into the McDughal Empire or how Ostrogoths and Visigoths mutated into Australian Goths, Visible Goths and Invisible Goths on a student’s exam paper increases the LOL potential of this book’s contents by a large margin.
Be careful whom you LOL at, though. The eager (or perhaps less-than-eager) pupils responsible for creating these twisted gems of historical revisionism are victims as much as they are culprits, products of a flawed educational system that demands only results while offering little assistance in the process. Or maybe they were just plain careless. Either way, a shoddy background in world history is by no means exclusive to the students of the Western lands from whence these quotes came. I’ve seen a lot of the same back in high school and in university, and I’m quite sure that wherever you’re from or whatever institution you attended you’ve already come across something of this kind. (Whether you’re the guilty party or not is another matter. ^_^) And while some might find cause for disquiet in the thought that a future leader of the world’s only superpower – the man or woman who will one day inherit the Earth’s most lethal war machine – may once have attributed the Tsar’s dismal performance in the First World War to the rather questionable “fact” that “Russian generals were idiots and Russian industry could only produce one or two bullets every year”, let’s not sound the alarm bells just yet. A lummox of that calibre probably won’t even make it onto the graduation stage, much less into the White House.
Unless the person who holds the deciding vote believes that “the Boston Tea Party was held at Pearl Harbor”.
Okay, you can sound those alarm bells now.
Then go get the book and give yourself an education.
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