You Can’t Make This Stuff Up


I don’t care what anyone else says. I love reading historical nonfiction.

Holla if you’re with me!

No? Historical nonfiction isn’t cool enough to get a holla?

Well, you’re entitled to that opinion, but I sincerely beg to disagree.

Now, I will admit that Innovative Editing’s writing Description below isn’t the most flashy one ever. But bear with me here.

It is, after all, important to understand exactly what we mean when we talk about writing (or reading) historical nonfiction. After that, we’ll get to the good stuff about this genre…

The stuff you just can’t make up.

Historical Nonfiction:

This one can be summed up in two words: real history. Then again, that’s not a bad description of most biographies too. So let’s add another layer to this Innovative Editing writing Description.

Historical nonfiction is also about a single point or event in time, not a lifespan. This could be a war, an economic event, a governing force, a technological era or a social movement, including the details of what brought it about, what kept it going and what lasting effects it had, if any at all.

Did I put you to sleep yet?

In that case, wake up! You’re about to go explore the North Pole.

At least you would be if you were reading Hampton Sides’ In the Kingdom of Ice, the riveting story about a U.S. government-sanctioned journey to explore the tropics beyond the Arctic circle.

It’s just like Hawaii up there, you know. So bring your bikini!

As In the Kingdom of Ice shows, that really was an accepted expectation back in the 1870s. Well-respected and renowned scientists the world over believed there were shipping routes to be found, agricultural opportunities to be exploited and so much more up at the top of the world.

And, believe it or not, they had scientific data to back them up! Plenty of it.

Makes you wonder what scientists might be bewilderingly wrong about today, huh? In which case, reading historical nonfiction – even vicariously through Innovative Editing – has already made you a bit more of a thinking individual and a little less of a lemming.

Holla!

But wait! There’s more!

In the case of In the Kingdom of Ice, you also get to learn about James Gordon Bennett Jr., the third-richest man in New York City in the 1870s. Owner of the New York Herald, he was a bachelor who enjoyed a good midnight carriage race through Manhattan… naked.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Though if anyone could, it would be James Gordon Bennett, Jr., who believed that newspapers shouldn’t just report news. They should also make it up from time to time.

Consider Exhibit A: “A Shocking Sabbath Carnival of Death.”

This was the headline for the New York Herald’s completely made-up scoop about animals escaping a local zoo. As Hampton Sides writes:

The Herald reporters had diligently captured every detail: How the panther was seen crouching over a man’s body, “gnawing horribly at his head.” How the African lioness, after “saturating herself in the blood” of several victims, had been shot by a party of Swedish immigrants. How the rhino had killed a seamstress named Annie Thomas… [and] how, at Bellevue Hospital, the doctors were “kept busy dressing the fearful wounds” and found it “necessary to perform a number of amputations…”

Mr. James Gordon Bennett Jr.’s stunt – pulled in part because he was ticked off with the zoo – sent the city into an absolute panic until it came out that he’d made the whole thing up.

Did he get in trouble for it?

All I can say is there’s a reason – many of them, in fact – why I love reading historical nonfiction.

And if it’s that much fun reading it, how fascinating must it be to write it?

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