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Milton's Teeth and Ovid's Umbrella: Curiouser and Curiouser Adventures in History

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We've all been taught that history is the story of great events and important people—but is it, really? In this illuminating collection of essays, Michael Olmert explores how the most ordinary artifacts of everyday life can reveal a huge amount information about how history actually works. For example:

  • Toothbrushes—how they eased ...
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Overview

We've all been taught that history is the story of great events and important people—but is it, really? In this illuminating collection of essays, Michael Olmert explores how the most ordinary artifacts of everyday life can reveal a huge amount information about how history actually works. For example:

  • Toothbrushes—how they eased civilization into the Industrial Revolution
  • Playing Cards—how the technology of printing cards led to Gutenberg's Bible
  • Keys—why these little metal objects have been a symbol of power and authority throughout the ages.
  • Pets—why black cats were considered dangerous omens, while white ones were thought to be stupid.

How have these little things affected us, and what role does their history play in ours? Olmert forces us to take another look at the odds and ends of life we so often take for granted. Whimsical, witty, and highly informative, Milton's Teeth and Ovid's Umbrella holds the key through the back door and into the kitchen of history — where people really lived.

Michael Olmert is the author of The Smithsonian Book of Books and The Official Guide to Williamsburg. His work has been featured in Smithsonian magazine, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Colonial Williamsburg, and Sports Illustrated. He also wrote the feature film The Leopard Son and has won two Emmy awards for his writing in documentaries featured on PBS, Discovery, and National Geographic. He teaches Shakespeare at the University of Maryland.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Life, leisure, celebrations, implements, and symbols are the categories under which Olmert (The Book of Books, LJ 9/1/92) places his stories about such subjects as hair and hands, betting and sports, hazing and vacations, tools and pets. Because his accounts are so selective, they are more of antiquarian than historical interest, but he does include suggestions for further reading at the end of each short chapter. His sources range from the Greek classics to artifacts unearthed at Annapolis, where he lives. His essays move freely from western Europe to America but not noticeably to Asia or elsewhere. He writes interestingly about chess and violence, but his economic interpretation of the origins of toothbrushes is unconvincing. For popular collections.R. James Tobin, Univ. of Wisconsin Lib., Milwaukee
Jennifer Henderson
This collection of 50 very readable essays expands on some of the "Points of Origin" columns Olmert wrote for "Smithsonian" as well as on some of his writings for "Colonial Williamsburg" and "Historic Preservation". Here he examines the clues to past events that historians and archaeologists have found in unusual "texts," such as oyster shells, cow teeth, toothbrushes, and folklore. Olmert discusses running, lotteries, chess, April Fools' Day, lawns, umbrellas, and toothbrushes. For example, toothbrushes, introduced in the late 1600s, eased us into the Industrial Revolution by emphasizing personal hygiene (an essential discipline for those gathering in groups to labor for someone else). As they evolved from hand-fashioned, irregular implements to mass-produced, standardized products, toothbrushes symbolized the basic work ethic of capitalism. The reader will also gain insight into summer vacations, playing cards, and taxes--for, as Olmert reminds us, "we have been so chafed by hateful taxes that no fewer than four historic milestones have been tax revolts. Magna Carta, the English Civil War, and the American and French Revolutions have all been about taxes."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780760770467
  • Publisher: Sterling Publishing
  • Publication date: 3/15/2005
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.98 (w) x 8.46 (h) x 0.42 (d)

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