El Bicho's Hive

A Collection of Reviews Covering the Worlds of Art and Entertainment alongside other Snobbish Ramblings.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Book of Firsts: 150 World-Changing People and Events from Caesar Augustus to the Internet by Peter D'Epiro

As Peter D'Epiro writes in the preface, "The first of anything in our lives acquires an aura all its own." Do you remember your first kiss, your first car, your first love who may also be the cause of your first heartbreak? All firsts help define an individual from the first album you bought on your own, the first place you lived without your parents, to the first time you encountered the death of a family member.

Collected in The Book of Firsts, as the subtitle indicates, are 150 major firsts for humanity over the course of the first millennium A.D. that shaped our species. Opening with "Who was the first Roman emperor?" (A: Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus, aka Augustus, who reigned from 27BC to 14 AD) and concluding with "What was the first internet?" (A: contributor Tom Matrullo provides a history of the Internet up to 2009 and points to two possible answers), an essay offering historical context and seeking to clarify "the difference between the absolute first and the first that really mattered" accompanies each answer.

The book is broken down into centuries with each getting seven or eight entries, and it covers a wide range of subjects that comprise the human experience: arts, religion, science, philosophy, war, politics, inventions, and discoveries. There's also a who's who spotlighting people such as the first pope, philosopher-king, Santa Claus, Muslim, troubadour, modern man, etc.

What I most enjoyed was making my own discoveries within the book. When I read "Who first published a theory of evolution based on natural selection?" I assumed I was going to get an essay on Charles Darwin and his On the Origin of the Species. However, it turns out the actual answer is Alfred Russel Wallace. The essay presents a brief biography of Wallace and reveals his theory and connection to Darwin.

The Book of Firsts is a wonderfully engaging treasure trove of information best suited for history buffs and trivia pursuers. It can be read all the way through or savored in small amounts. Either way, D'Epiro's goal is too "stimulate the reader's hunger for further historical knowledge in greater depth an detail." I'd be the first to admit he succeeded with me.

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