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The Book of Firsts    by Peter D'Epiro order for
Book of Firsts
by Peter D'Epiro
Order:  USA  Can
Anchor, 2010 (2010)
Softcover, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

This is the kind of book you can either read from cover to cover or just sample sections as the spirit moves you.

Organized by centuries, this collection of short essays surveys a number of firsts which range from inventions and discoveries to innovative ideas, scientific breakthroughs and artistic developments.

In each section the author poses a number of questions - 'Who was the first Roman emperor? Who built the first great Roman wall in Britain? Where did the first overseas Viking raid occur?' If a question listed in the book's table of contents piques your curiosity, then turn to the page where you'll find the author's response.

Originally, D'Epiro planned to feature 301 short firsts essays but he realized that would make the book way too long. He then explained in the book's preface he pared the number down to 200. But even that was still too long, so he knocked off 25 more before eventually bottoming out at 150.

Although the pruning was obviously necessary, I question what made the cut and what didn't. As I scanned the table of contents I realized that I already knew the answer to between a third and a half of the questions that the author created to focus on the firsts he wished to discuss. I found no reason to seek the answers to questions like 'What was the First World War? Who developed the first practical incandescent lamp? Who first published a theory of civilization based on natural selection?' since I already knew the answers.

I admit I did enjoy the parts of the book that offered information I wasn't familiar with but, overall, I think the author focused on too many commonly known firsts and this diminished the book's total potential impact. Had D'Epiro focused on more esoteric firsts, this book would have been more appealing to a wider range of readers.

The beauty of the volume's format, though, allows the reader to scan the table of contents quickly and then decide if this is a purchase he or she wishes to make.

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