To clarify, it’s the content of the History that’s horrible. The books themselves are actually quite entertaining.
Horrible Histories is, as the name would suggest, the series of history books written by famed late-1700s Prussian historian Aloysius von Horrible, seen here in a 1200% real and factual, genuine 1797 woodcut.
That was a joke.
What Horrible Histories actually is is a history of the world — though one with a not insubstantial Britain-centric point of view (it is a British series) that basically plays up the horrible aspects of said history: the wars, the political intrigue, the crazy Emperors declaring war on the ocean, the murders, the assassinations, the discredited medical theories, the weird food.
Hence, the name of the series.
Notably, Horrible Histories presents the horribleness of history in a way that’s fun for kids — for example, the battle of Agincourt, wherein the heroic French knights heroically charged into battle and got themselves heroically shot full of arrows.
And the approach actually works, thanks in large part to the series being written with a very dark, very dry, very British sense of humour.
And, honestly, things like “Even the heroes were jerks”, “The things we take for granted didn’t always exist”, “War is terrible”, and “The past was generally awful, be happy it’s over” aren’t terrible lessons for kids to learn.
The book series also lead to a BBC show (which I also recommend), which is basically a fast-paced sketch comedy show that happens to also be educational and informative. If you’re curious, it’s available on Netflix (at least in Canada) and a lot of individual clips have been posted on its YouTube channel.
And it’s got one heck of a theme song:
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