This was a different kind of book for me! I don’t generally read a lot of nonfiction, even though I’m always saying I want to read more.
But then I read this interview with Jennifer Wright, and I just knew I had to check it out. I love history and I love hearing about other people’s drama. Plus the book starts with two quotes – one from Buddha and one from Taylor Swift (two of our greatest philosophers). I knew I was gonna like it.
As the title suggests, this book covers thirteen of the most terrible, violent, heart-wrenching and just bizarre breakups in world history. And, boy, are there some doozies. You will never feel bad about drunk texting you ex again — at least you didn’t send him a bloody lock of pubic hair (seriously)! Starting in 55 AD with continuing through the late 20th Century, Wright captures the full spectrum of failed relationships and the often crazy circumstances created by them.
This book has the potential to be major bummer. The stories are all about people losing love, often with an extra dose of murder, adultery, and even one life-size sex doll. But Wright makes the smart decision to write about the breakups in a delightfully snarky and hilarious way. She understands and celebrates the ridiculousness of the stories without taking away from the historical details. Her enthusiasm for the historical figures is infectious – you can tell she’s a true history nerd who would be a total asset to any trivia night team.
I am not a historical expert (can you tell?) but this book seemed really well-researched to me. The bibliography is extensive, especially for a book that’s only around 250 pages. It has a lot of great links and resources for people who want to learn more about the historical figures mentioned (I definitely did).
Wright also makes an effort to include some helpful life lessons from each breakup, like learning to be happy on your own and knowing that it’s always okay to leave a bad relationship. While none of them are particularly revolutionary, I appreciate that Wright found common themes between breakups from centuries ago to our romantic entanglements today.
This is a fun read for anyone interested in some of the most significant and outlandish relationships in history. I think it would also make a great gift for any friend you have going through a bad breakup who could use a healthy dose of perspective. Definitely one of the most memorable books I read this year!
The full list of breakups covered in this collection are:
- Nero and Poppaea
- Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II (Eleanor is my new favorite historical figure, btw)
- Lucrezia Borgia and Giovanni Sforza
- Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard
- Anna Ivanovna
- Timothy Dexter
- Caroline Lamb and Lord Byron (the aforementioned pubic hair incident)
- John Ruskin and Effie Gray
- Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas
- Edith Wharton and Morton Fullerton
- Oskar Kokoschka and Alma Mahler
- Norman Mailer and Adele Morales Mailer
- Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher and Elizabeth Taylor
Other cool related sources:
It Ended Badly – Official Website
A Love too Big to Last – Vanity Fair article on Liz Taylor and Richard Burton