Friday, January 16, 2009

Forgotten Books: THE DECLINE AND FALL OF PRACTICALLY EVERYBODY -- Will Cuppy

Okay, in case you're asking yourself what the connection to mysteries is, I'll tell you right off the bat: for many years Will Cuppy reviewed crime fiction for the New York Herald Tribune. I wonder how many people besides me know that. Anyway, you can read his review of a mystery by David Dodge on this page (scroll down).

And there's plenty of criminality in The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody, though it's certainly not a mystery. It's a wonderful, hilarious book, though, and I love it. I've read it two or three times over the years. It's history, and probably fairly accurate history, filtered through Cuppy's unique sensibility. You should read the introduction. You'll discover that Cuppy was the kind of guy who had to know everything about whatever he wrote about. He'd read 25 thick volumes before writing a 1000 word piece. That might explain why this book wasn't finished at his death, though he'd been working on it, off and on, for 16 years.

What's here, though, is great stuff. Chapters on all kinds of historical figures, from Lady Godiva (the cover girl, natch) to Charlemagne to Columbus. And more. Much more.

Cuppy loved footnotes, which you might find irritating. So would I, if the footnotes weren't hilarious, as all of Cuppy's are. You need a laugh? Read this book. You want to know about Catherine the Great? Read this book. Would I steer you wrong?

8 comments:

pattinase (abbott) said...

The name is familiar but not the book. Looks like fun though.

Scott Parker said...

Okay, I just put the book on hold at the library. You've got me curious. As a historian, I want to laugh. And I can't help but wonder if history texts were like you describe this book if students would not think it a dull subject.

Bill Crider said...

If history texts were like this, history would be the most popular class in school.

Scott Parker said...

To which I ask: why not?

Todd Mason said...

Cuppy also reviewed for the shortlived but impressive MYSTERY MONTHLY (the first digest-sized mystery fiction magazine?. As for Cuppy, I tend to rate him higher than Armour (whom I loved as a kid) and just about as high as Benchley and Leacock. It's been a while for me, though. (And no Davidson fan can sneer at discursive humor.)

Bill Crider said...

I like Armour, too, but Cuppy remains a favorite.

Todd Mason said...

And what I ment to write was MYSTERY BOOK magazine, which was a later-starting digest than EQMM, was the one Cuppy reviewed for. But it's been a tiring day.

I've revisited Richard Armour, haven't Jean Kerr, for a while.

Someday.

Bill Crider said...

Hadn't thought of Jean Kerr for a while. Thanks for the reminder.