I totally read this book because the Dirty Jobs guy wrote it.
The book was unexpected. I only know the dude as the Dirty Jobs guy and didn’t know much else about him, but I liked him because of the show and was curious to see what he’d written about. When I realized the book was actually a bunch of vignettes about famous people throughout history, I was sold. I like books like this because I often end up learning something I didn’t know before. I even learned stuff about the Dirty Jobs dude.
Nonfiction – History
Executive producer and host Mike Rowe presents a delightfully entertaining, seriously fascinating collection of his favorite episodes from America’s #1 short-form podcast, The Way I Heard It, along with a host of personal memories, ruminations, and insights. It’s a captivating must-read.
The Way I Heard It presents thirty-five mysteries “for the curious mind with a short attention span.” Every one is a trueish tale about someone you know, filled with facts that you don’t. Movie stars, presidents, bloody do-gooders, and villains—they’re all here, waiting to shake your hand, hoping you’ll remember them. Delivered with Mike’s signature blend of charm, wit, and ingenuity, their stories are part of a larger mosaic—a memoir full of surprising revelations, sharp observations, and intimate, behind-the-scenes moments drawn from Mike’s own remarkable life and career. (Goodreads)
The Way I Heard It was a fun read that I enjoyed jumping in and out of. It was the perfect book to read concurrently with others because each chapter felt like its own contained thing, like a book of short stories or essays. It was a quick read and an entertaining one as well.
Rowe begins each chapter with a story about a historical figure, whether describing something the person is known for or something that occurred in the person’s life. It then becomes a guessing game for the reader (well, it was for me), who tries to figure out who Rowe is talking about before he reveals the person’s name. I had a lot of fun doing this.
Rowe also includes stories about his life and family in each chapter. Often, he’ll relate his story to the famous/historical figure he discussed in the chapter. I think this added a nice touch to the book, which, coupled with how the book is written, made me think of it as more of a conversation with Rowe about his life and people he admires. It made me wish I’d listened to the audiobook instead especially since he narrates it.
The book is a quick read with under 300 pages, and the chapters are quite short as well. It’s one you can breeze through or jump in and out of, like me. You don’t even need to read it in a linear fashion from front to back. You can just jump in anywhere and get going.
Of the chapters, my favorites were the following because the people discussed really interested me and, mostly, because I liked how the chapter was written. Since reading this book is like a guessing game, I’ll white-out the name of the person.
- “A Hero Under the Influence”: about Charles Joughin, the chief baker of the Titanic who survived for three hours in 28-degree water on alcohol — he helped many women and children escape the sunken ship on life boats
- “No Polite Way to Put It”: about Elizabeth Custer, who sexted her husband Victorian-style: She wrote love letters to him.
- “Call It What You Will”: about Peter Roget, the dude who created the thesaurus. (I love the many puns in this section; it was fun to read.)
- “The 25-Million-Dollar Kiss”: about Hedy Lamarr, whose real name is Hedwig (which is the first I came across a real person named Hedwig), a movie star who sold kisses to raise war bonds and created and patented the ability to use radio signal to hop from one frequency to another, which helped usher in creations like satellite communications and Wi-Fi.
- “Keep Your Voice Down!”: about Bob Ross, who used to shout a lot at young recruits as a sergeant in the Air Force before becoming known for his soft, soothing voice.
- “The Greaseman Cometh”: about Elijah McCoy, whose parents escaped slavery and whose name became synonymous with the word “genuine.” He was born a free man. He invented the ironing board, the sprinkler, and the lubricating cup for locomotive engines so that they don’t have to stop to be greased.
Overall: ★★★☆☆ ½
It’s light, it’s fun, and it might leave you curious about the people in it, even Mike Rowe. That’s what happened with me; it made me want to go rewatch old Dirty Jobs episodes and even check out Deadliest Catch, of which I’ve only seen a few episodes.
Buy | Borrow | Bypass
I recommend it, especially if you’re thinking to check out the audiobook so you can listen to Rowe’s deep, velvety voice.
If you’ve read Rowe’s book and liked it or you haven’t but it interests you, you might like this one as well. The structure is kind of similar: When Hitler Took Cocaine and Lenin Lost His Brain: History’s Unknown Chapters by Giles Milton.