Why You Should Fall Asleep Reading American History

It happens to the best of us. Dear Americans, do not take this as a personal assault on your nation’s history- this is far from it. Instead, this is… well, just read the article.

Only yesterday I was reading “American History” by Paul S. Boyer when, at only page 6, I succumbed to irresistible slumber. And I am glad I did, because I truly could not bear it any longer. When you are reading a text that is drier than an apple ring in a toddler’s lunch, (sorry Boyer) it is easily done. Take the phrase: “Underlying the creativity and ferment of antebellum America lay the inescapable reality of slavery”. The present (the content, here) is engaging, but the wrapping (pompous language) is so uninteresting that it is almost too depressing to tear it off.

So, deprived of dreams and bored, the book slipped from my hands as I slipped into sleep. And then, a solid 40 minutes later, I woke up, and I still had 124 pages to go! But now, I felt refreshed like I had imbibed an elixir of concentration. I proceeded with my task and I managed to absorb some fascinating things about American History, like:

  • The theory New England Puritans had in the 18th Century that “God had chosen the Puritans to create in America a New Zion”, which clearly did not fade away after they had founded Massachusetts. This sense of narcissism, that America had such a unique role in history which was beyond that of simply capitalism and greed, is truly engrossing. Also, it does tonally remind one of:

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  • The 17th Century concept of indentured servants: these are like slaves (but with a couple more laws on their side) who have to work only for a certain period of time under their masters before they are free. They worked in exchange for a paid passage to the Colonies. As I study American History (you should be so proud of me for doing this external reading), I found it surprising that my course completely overlooks indentured servants, when  “one-half to two-thirds of the immigrants who came to the American colonies arrived as indentured servants”. Does nobody else think that is astounding? They typically spent four to seven years working before they could be free. Now there you were thinking that flights for the Christmas break were expensive. It is generally accepted though that Africans  initially “blended into a larger population of unfree labourers” before they alone eventually became enslaved. That is the truly horrific note, because it illustrates how at this point slavery was not societal (although obviously that was awful as well); it was consciously introduced. Many may imagine slavery was imported from the mother country into America, but evidently in the beginning this was not the case and instead was consciously integrated into a culture which had existed primarily without it.

 

  • Fake news existed in 1776. Who knew? Or, to be more accurate, people had their own special version of Twitter and Facebook back then, only showing them what they wanted to see. A specific example was Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, which published in January, sold nearly 120,000 by April. It is almost the contemporary equivalent of a vegan cookbook! Oh how times have changed. We really have become unintellectual. But many have cited Common Sense as the trigger to the Revolution, and how it determined the tone of the Second Continental Congress in May (where the Declaration of Independence was written).  To think that in the 18th Century a mere pamphlet could have such a monumental impact on the course of world history is astounding, is it not? One might think that Paine was a real pain, because he had just moved to America when he released Common Sense and called King George III a “royal brute” and therefore was incredibly disloyal. But actually, some of what he said did make a lot of sense, and are harmonious with the ideals of this blog:

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Anyway, I decided that even if I was reading A Very Short Introduction, it turned out not to be that short, so after my delicious nap I decided only to read the parts of the book relevant to my course. You can tell I consolidated and learnt some great facts along the way, but most of all, this moral:

DO NOT READ AMERICAN HISTORY IF YOU ARE TIRED. THE WORDS WILL SLIP THROUGH YOUR EYEBALLS AND THEN EVAPORATE AS LITTLE CURLS OF THOUGHT STEAM ABOVE YOUR HEAD SO THAT YOU’VE WASTED YOUR TIME AND WON’T BE ABLE TO REMEMBER ANYTHING LATER.

Instead, sleep, and then return to your work, refreshed, with a more receptive mind to even the driest of texts.

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*Yes, sorry, this only works if you are on holiday and can just snooze around whenever. Apologies if that is disappointing news.

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”

SEPTEMBER BOOK OF THE BOOK

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When prisoners were asked to rate themselves in terms of how moral, trustworthy, honest, dependable, compassionate, law-abiding, self-controlled, kind to others and generous they were, they said that they were better than average at 8 out of the 9 traits. Let’s read that again. Prisoners charged with violence and theft thought that they were more compassionate than the rest of the population. And had more self-controlled. Right, yes, that totally makes sense.

In fact, the only trait where they didn’t supposedly surpass  the rest of the population with was in ‘law-abidingness’, where they “rated themselves as equally law-abiding”. Which is ironic, as they were the ones behind bars. This phenomenon of wanting to elevate your own status is not new, and the vast majority of people when asked these very questions thought that they too are better than average at practically everything. Yes… I know, the maths for everyone being better than average doesn’t quite add up, does it?

So humanity are keen to establish their superiority over others. But who really are the best, the so-called superhumans of our race, and can we become like them? As Oscar Wilde once famously said:

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No one likes the thought of being sub-par: yes, people are lazy and do things against their self-interest, but there is always a part of them that wants greatness. Fame, money, social recognition. It’s the way contemporary society works, and I am no different. The Ink Cloud hit the Fringe this past August, and during my free time I wandered into Waterstones (surprise surprise) with about £100 worth of book tokens to spend. As some readers may have gathered from my reading choices, I’m extremely interested in sport (namely triathlon). I will be the first to say that I am ambitious person whose overwhelming confidence in certain situations is almost laughable (as you can also probably tell from my posts). Unashamedly, I do want to succeed, especially in triathlon which I train a lot for. So it’s no wonder that Rowan Hooper’s book Superhuman captured my attention. I was drawn to the title and blurb, because I wanted to find out how I too can be like them: there was an attraction finally hearing the secret of how to be superior. It sounds unattractive perhaps, but I bet you feel the same way, too. Deep down. Don’t deny it.

In the book, Hooper finds those who excel in various walks in life, whether it’s their ability to be supremely intelligent, fast, resilient or even happy. There are many interviews and scientific studies, as well as witty quips. Admittedly, I’m a sucker for well-designed book cover, and the sprinter on the front really did it for me. Because if I’m going to part with £20 for a book, it may as well look classy. Right? Anyway, I was hoping to come to Superhuman to find some secret, some little insight into how I could reach the level of sporting success that I crave. Maybe ‘crave’ is the wrong word, because I train copiously everyday, so it’s not like I just sit in bed and hope for it. But you see what I mean.

Thus the main message behind Superhuman, I can exclusively reveal, is that genetics is at play. A could be called a useful catalyst. Nice to have, sure, but not essential. This is because time and time again it was actually hard work that was the driving force the success people experienced. Yes, elite runners with innate talent may have learnt to walk a little faster, but talent hadn’t woken them up at 5AM so that they can go to a pre-school training. What I took away from it all was:

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But I knew that anyway, and you probably did too. Yet reading this book was nevertheless genuinely enjoyable and hearing about all these successful people truly drove that message home.