I greatly enjoy American history so I was excited to read Mary Theobald’s Death By Petticoat: American History Myths Debunked (Andrews McNeel Publishing, June 2012). I ended up leaving it a bit disappointed because of the lack of depth behind the book. It was an amusing and quick read, and I did learn some trivial facts from American history, but because I had expected a more detailed examination of myths and reality, I was disappointed in the superficiality of Ms Theobald’s offering.
As the subtitle suggests, the book is a collection of clarifications to some common misconceptions and traditions in history, such as that women frequently died when their petticoats caught fire or that early homes did not have closets in order to avoid the “closet tax.” Ms Theobald writes with a humorous and personable tone and her explanations against the traditions were succinct. Each myth got one or two pages of explanation to “debunk” it; some explanations were as brief as a few sentences. On pages without text were full-color photographs of Colonial Williamsburg Foundation artifacts, as well as staged scenarios with modern-day actors.
If the reader wanted a quick and amusing look at history, Death by Petticoat may be a satisfying option. It seems particularly appropriate as a coffee table book to remember one’s trip to Colonial Wiliamsburg. (I’ve never been there myself). It is a book one can flip through but it’s also short enough to read in a sitting as I did. As it was, I personally was disappointed by the superficiality of the explanations. Further, there was no resource list or endnotes to indicate sources (a pet peeve of mine in nonfiction), and I found it far too brief a read to leave me feeling I’d learned something memorable about American history other than “don’t be gullible.”
Note: I read a digital review copy from the publisher for review consideration via netgalley.com.