The second nonfiction book I’ve read this year and it was quite fun. When Hitler Took Cocaine and Lenin Lost His Brain is a history book about facts not commonly discussed. The book is divided into two sections, which are further divided into several parts, and are composed of short essays that are no more than 3- or 4-pages long.
The book is a quick read, coming in at 261 pages, which includes lists of suggested readings for the topics covered. Most of the essays are written in a light-hearted tone with jabs thrown at certain figures whose actions seem a bit comical. Other times, a serious tone is affected when the events and figures being discussed are placed in either inhumane or dire situations.
I enjoyed reading this book. I picked it up by chance while visiting the library because the title caught my attention. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was glad to find that it is easy to read because of the short, snappy essays and that it’s quite entertaining as well. I also like that we are given some background details to better understand why an event occurred or why a person did something.
Of the essays, these stood out the most to me:
“When Hitler Took Cocaine,” which talks about Hitler’s cocaine addiction as well as the concoction of drugs his personal physician, Theodor Morell, fed him. The last sentence in this essay is pretty interesting:
“It is ironic that the man charged with restoring Hitler to good health probably did more than anyone else to contribute to his decline.”
“The Long War of Hiroo Onoda,” about a Japanese soldier who kept conducting guerilla raids in the jungles of the Philippines 29 years after World War II had ended. He didn’t stop fighting until his commanding officer, who was luckily still alive, visited him and told him the war is over, Japan lost, and he should stop. I love the opening sentence to this essay:
“His home was a dense area of rainforest and he lived on the wild coconuts that grew in abundance. His principal enemy was the army of mosquitos that arrived with each new shower of rain. But for Hiroo Onoda, there was another enemy, one that remained elusive.”
“Surviving Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” which is about Tsutomu Yamaguchi, who survived both bombings and later became an advocate against the use of nuclear weapons. He died in 2010 at 93-years-old.
“Barking for Victory,” about a dog that served in the U.S. Army during World War I and advanced to the level of sergeant through combat. He was the only dog to do so.
“Who Killed Rasputin?” which is, of course, about Rasputin’s death. It disputes all the myths surrounding it but I prefer the fantastical recollections surrounding his death.
“The Last Eunuch of China,” which was an interesting read about the life of the last eunuch. Personally, I would have been pissed because it seems that soon as Sun Yaoting got his dick chopped off, the emperor abdicated his throne. That really sucks. All he wanted to do was serve his emperor.
“When Lenin Lost His Brain.” It’s kind of gruesome but basically Vladimir Lenin’s body has been on display for almost nine decades somewhere in Russia. The corpse is missing its brain, which was removed to be studied. By the way, here’s an article about it that appeared in The Atlantic.
“Into the Monkey House,” which is about Ota Benga, a pygmy brought from Congo and kept in the monkey house at the Bronx Zoo in New York.
“The American Museum of Natural History retains a life-size cast of Ota Benga’s head and shoulders. To this day it is not marked with his name or any indication that he was a human being. The label has just one word: ‘pygmy’.”
“The Human Freak Show,” about Sarah Baartman, also known as the ‘Hottentot Venus’. She was brought from Cape Town to England to be paraded about to display her body: large buttocks and genitalia. I’ve known about both Baartman and Ota Benga before reading this book, but reading about them again really angered me, especially Baartman’s story. Even in death, she was still displayed. She was dissected and her genitalia were pickled to be displayed, along with her skeleton, in the Musée de l’Homme, France, until 1974. In 2002, Nelson Mandela asked that her remains be returned to South Africa for a proper burial.
“Emperor of the United States,” about the dude who declared himself emperor back in the 1860s. It’s kind of funny.
“The Man Who Bought His Wife,” was a really cool read that would make a great historical-fiction story. The short of it: Florenz Szasz, a Hungarian teen who was abducted and made a slave, was “sold” to Samuel Baker (quite an adventure there because he didn’t have the money to buy her), who became her husband and brought her along on his excursions in Africa.
“Let’s Talk Gibberish,” which is about the use of Navajo language in World War II because codes sent in Navajo were impossible to break.
I almost listed all the essays in the book above. I enjoyed reading this book and I learned loads from it. So if you’re fascinated by history, would like to read some quirky stories about real people and occurrences, or would just like to try a quick nonfiction book, I highly suggest that you give this one a try.