I'm author Michael Farquhar and I write about bad days in history. AMA!
EDIT: THANK YOU everyone for your thoughtful questions. It was fun engaging with you! Hope each of you reading or participating DOESN'T have a BAD DAY!
Hi Reddit, I'm Michael Farquhar. I write the kind of history you never learned in history class. I used to write and edit at The Washington Post, before turning to books. My work includes the critically acclaimed Behind the Palace Doors and Secret Lives of the Tsars, as well as the popular Penguin "Treasury" series: A Treasury of Royal Scandals, A Treasury of Great American Scandals, A Treasury of Deception, and A Treasury of Foolishly Forgotten Americans. My latest is a sequel to the bestselling Bad Days in History: A Gleefully Grim Chronicle of Misfortune, Mayhem, and Misery for Every Day of the Year—cleverly titled MORE Bad Days in History: The Delightfully Dismal, Day-by-Day Saga of Ignominy, Idiocy, and Incompetence Continues. Ask me anything!
Proof: https://i.redd.it/fke5w0q6w4571.jpg https://i.redd.it/ihlimk5iw4571.jpg
Royal history always tends to amp up the outrageous quotient. Humans are humans, and our behavior remains fairly consistent. But when humans operate without restraint, as monarchs did in ancient Rome and Tudor England (for example), the misbehavior becomes glaring. Lots of good/bad royal tales in this collection.
What is, for you, the worst day in history?
There is no single worst day! So many...and so varied. Is it when a lovelorn Lincoln came close to suicide? Or when Dutch citizens, unhappy with their prime minister, decided to eat him? Or when the Beatles were attacked at the British Embassy in Washington?
Of course there are hideous human atrocities, but we have shied away from them in this book. Much more about mortifying, outrageously obnoxious kind of behavior--365 days worth!
Do you ever think about GOOD days in history?
Yes! I've had a GOOD life. But let's face it...the rotten days of historical figures are just a little more fun to read about!
Where do you do find these facts? Do you go to LOC or local libraries? Where?
I have a broad familiarity with history--my passion--so that's helpful as a starting point. Some of the most interesting nuggets pop up unexpectedly...like when I'm researching an interesting footnote I come across and all these other tidbits emerge. The fun part is when the too-good-to-be-true story turns out absolutely true. Always a bummer, though, when days of research end up with nothing but a myth. I live in DC so I have great research resources at the Library of Congress, professors at local universities, and many biographers who are right here in town. i LOVE THIS PART OF MY JOB!
Do you currently see similar things happening In the United states that also happened in the Russian Civil war? If so what do you see and how can it be fixed if so?
This is a bit heavy for the type of history book I have written, although the colossal cluelessness of Tsar Nicholas II is amply explored in the entry for March 9, 1917. Empress Alexandra maintained a dangerously ill-informed sway over her weak and vacillating husband. The troubles in the capital were merely “a hooligan movement,” she purred in a letter to Nicholas on the eve of Revolution and Civil War, “young boys & girls running about & screaming that they have no bread, only to excite . . . if it were very cold they wld. probably stay in doors. But this will all pass & quieten down.”
Also, you might enjoy my book, Secret Lives of the Tsars.
Do you have a favorite historical figure, or someone whose life story you find the most fascinating/enjoy studying the most?
My historical interests vary, so there isn't a single figure who captures my full attention. I prefer the survey approach to history, with dollops of all periods, from around the world.
Who, based on your research, had the worst day of all time?
Hard to say. It's so subjective. Was it Peter the Great's wife, who was sent the head of her reputed lover, pickled in a jar? Or was it the proud and dignified George Washington, whose mother managed to mortify him? Or was it when British General Cornwallis was such a poor sport that he decided to call in sick to his surrender after Yorktown?
1) What percent of the "bad days" were avoidable, or are they inevitable? 2) What do you see as the top three worst possible days that could happen this year?
Completely inevitable. Life is ALWAYS good days and bad days. I just happened to catch these folks on their less-than-stellar days. As for this year...I am not a prognosticator, but you can bet on more than few folks with egg on their faces, or their names in the muck.
Who's your favorite historical figure who you can probably take in a fight?
I don't really have a favorite, and don't know whose behind I could kick. But I'll tell you one guy who was woefully underestimated by everyone, with fatal consequences: a little person dubbed Lord Minimus. Read all about him on Oct. 16, 1644.
Thanks for all your fascinating answers! In the events you've researched and written about most, is there a similar theme or lesson that you think we ought to learn from?
Lots of little life lessons--like laughing at yourself! But perhaps what I've learned most is that we need these Bad Days to supplement the history we are taught. Take the Founding Fathers, for example. We enshrine them in marble and treat them like omniscient demi-gods. Isn't it important to recognize their foibles? Their rivalries and jealousies? When we do, as so often in these pages, we are able to ultimately marvel at what they accomplished--as men, not gods--stuck in Independence Hall, B.O. wafting, often despising one another, while forging a new nation.
Thanks for doing this fascinating AMA! What do you think will go down as the most notorious 'bad day' in modern history?
Thank YOU for tuning in and participating. It's really hard to say what will go down as the most notorious "bad day" in modern history because history needs a little time to percolate. Plus, as we've discussed, it's all rather subjective. One of my favorites from the modern era--and on the less-heavy side? When the Tate Gallery in London purchased a can of one Italian artist's doo-doo for the equivalent of $32,000!!! See October 25, 2000.
What do you believe was the worst day in the history of mankind so far?
I'd bet every singe historical personage covered in the book would swear THEY were having the worst day in history! Some could actually be right...who knows? But one thing is for sure: Anyone complaining today just has to open the book to see that someone, somewhere in the historical record, was having it so much worse!
Plus, since we aren't covering atrocities, readers are spared the VERY worst of human behavior. (Although they might enjoy reading about uber-Nazi Joseph Goebbels's Bad Day on May 13, 1941)
What is your favorite type of taco?
The one who sang "Puttin on the Ritz"
Hi! What inspired you to write about bad days in history? And what would you want your next book to be about?
I love the history stories you never learned in history class. History is really fun, especially some of the darker episodes. And it was great to research and write the ones included here and in the prequel Bad Days in History. As for the next book? Plenty more Bad Days scoop I'd love to share.
In your research, did you discover a period in history that was more outrageous than others? And, where did you find all of these interesting facts?
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