Book Review: It Seemed Like A Good Idea

It Seemed Like A Good Idea: A Compendium Of Great Historical Fiascoes, edited by William R. Forstchen and Bill Fawcett

This book was loaned to me yesterday by a friend of mine who occasionally lends me historical books for reading and review [1], and it is a book I read once before and may have even purchased as light travel reading. I am of two minds concerning this book, because there are two levels (at least) that this book can be read on. On the level of a casual and lighthearted read, it works very well. The historical disasters chosen here are generally fiascoes on a high level, sometimes involving centuries of trouble as a result of a blunder. The authors make a sensible call that they will not include mistakes made in the heat of battle where pressure and a lack of information interfere with decision making but will focus on those decisions made of a blundering nature involving political and diplomatic strategic thinking that erred at the highest level.

That said, although the book is extremely easy to read, and quite enjoyable to read, and often entertaining even if it has a particularly striking perspective, including a tendency to be critical of those leaders, like Philip of Macedon, Archduke Franz Ferdinand [2], and JFK, who sought to be close to the people and wound up being struck down by assassins as a result, it does not succeed very well as a serious historical work. This is due to the absence of historical citations as well as the presence of numerous errors of fact, especially with regards to dates. Clearly, this book is being marketed to a casual reader of popular history that is looking for edification about certain moral lessons about history, including a marked criticism of people generally thought to be wise, including General Rommel for his Western Wall, and not to an intensely critical audience of learned generalist historians, which is, admittedly, a small market anyway.

So, one’s enjoyment of this work depends upon which level it is read at. If it is read on a fairly superficial level, without being too nitpicky about the exact dates being referred to, and if one does not mind a bit of a breezy and overconfident approach to the subject matter at hand, it is a pleasant read. It also helps if one does not mind a certain ethnocentric bias. After all, clearly, the authors are more interested in European and American history than Asian history, or else the behavior of the Song dynasty with regards to the Jurchen and later the Mongols would have easily made this list, as would the Qing attempts to bust the British in Canton for opium which led to the First Opium War and the terminal decline of the Qing Empire, including the horrors of the Taiping Rebellion. Of course, most readers will not be aware of the fiascoes that are not included, presumably on account of the lack of relevant historical background of the editors, and will not therefore be too critical. Some readers may find the last essay in the book, discussing Iraq and Afghanistan before 2001, eerily prescient in light of the past decade and a half of American history. This is an enjoyable read, although it misses quite a few blunders and does not go beyond the early 1990’s, and is therefore a bit obsolete, given the blunders of our more recent world history.

[1] See, for example:


About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Book Reviews, History, Military History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Book Review: It Seemed Like A Good Idea

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Shadow Divers | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: Why The Germans Lose At War | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: Book Review: Dreamers And Deceivers | Edge Induced Cohesion

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