History's Last Stand, by Gerard and Patricia Del Re (Dorset Press, 2001)

Quick! Name the last marriage or last day of life of King Henry VIII! Or the last day of the Spanish-American War! Bugsy Seigel’s last crime? Glenn Miller’s last appearance? The last monarch of Egypt? Ronald Reagan’s last film?

The last place anyone ever saw Jimmy Hoffa?

Chances are good the average person can’t answer more than one or two of these questions. Fear not, for now there’s History’s Last Stand, billed as “The Last Gasps, Fatal Falls, and Final Gambles of Heroes, Despots, and Civilizations.” Arranged in roughly chronological order from 404 B.C. (the last day of the Peloponnesian Wars) to January 20, 2001 (Bill Clinton’s last day in office as an American president), this book covers hundreds of famous lasts throughout history.

Last marriages. Last monarchs. Final words. Final meals. Last days in prison. Last crimes. The last American soldier executed for desertion (Eddie Slovak, in 1945). Last voyages. Last confirmed homicides. Last state to secede from the Union (North Carolina, May 20, 1861). The answers are all here, touching upon world leaders, world events, wars, heroes, villains, and so many ways of dying or being killed it’s not even funny.

Each entry is arranged in a useful, informative fashion, giving the name of the person, place, war, event, or otherwise that it deals with (Knute Rockne), followed by the specific last in question (last defeat), which contains a brief summary, and then a longer background to put it all into perspective (in this case, a paragraph detailing Knute Rockne’s career leading up to the final defeat).

There’s not much that I can say about this book except that it’s entertaining, and chock-full of the trivia I love to read about. Whether it’s the story about the last monarch of France (King Louis Philippe, reigned 1830-1848) or the background concerning the last day the U.S. used the gold standard (April 4, 1933), this book has information galore. It’s fun, and like potato chips, you can’t read just one at a time. A convenient index makes it all the easier to find what you’re looking for, and a bibliography allows you to go hunting for the original sources on many of these matters.

I greatly enjoyed History’s Last Gasp. It’s the ideal shelf book for any writer, history buff, trivia lover, scholar of society, or “them what just likes it weird.” Check it out.

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