Narrative Summary of Who Was Who: 5000 B. C. to Date

Overview: I’m reading a biographical dictionary with a humorous and sarcastic take on history. It’s essentially a collection of short, witty sketches of famous people, both real and fictional, from ancient times to the early 20th century. I’m learning about their lives, personalities, and accomplishments, presented in a humorous, often irreverent way.

Main Parts:

  • Note: The editor’s note, setting the tone for the book and making clear its satirical nature.
  • Abbreviations: A whimsical list of abbreviations used throughout the book, often with satirical meanings.
  • Obituary: A list of notable figures who have passed away, presented in a humorous and sometimes sarcastic light.
  • Biographies: The core of the book, consisting of short biographies of historical figures. Each entry is a humorous and satirical take on the individual’s life and achievements.

View on Life:

  • Cynicism: The book takes a cynical and skeptical approach to both the achievements of famous people and the idea of fame itself.
  • Humor and Satire: The author uses humor and satire to highlight the absurdity and contradictions of human nature and the pursuit of fame.


  • Historical Events: The book recounts numerous historical events, but in a humorous and satirical light, often emphasizing the absurdity and irony of these events.
  • Romantic Relationships: The book includes many references to romantic relationships, often presenting them as comedic or tragic, depending on the figure’s circumstances.
  • Political and Social Commentary: The book offers a satirical take on politics and society, often poking fun at the institutions and individuals involved.


  • The Pursuit of Fame: Many figures in the book face the challenge of achieving and maintaining fame, often with mixed results.
  • The Absurdities of Life: The book emphasizes the absurdity and irony of life, presenting challenges that are often both comical and poignant.
  • Dealing with the World’s Opinions: Many characters are challenged by how others perceive them and how they navigate public opinion.


  • Individual vs. Society: Many figures struggle with the expectations and constraints imposed by society, often defying or conforming to these norms in humorous ways.
  • Internal Conflict: Several characters experience internal conflict, often related to their ambitions, relationships, or beliefs.
  • Conflict Between Individuals: There are various conflicts between individuals, often stemming from political rivalries, personal clashes, or romantic entanglements.


  • Linear Narrative: The book doesn’t follow a single plot but rather presents a series of interconnected biographical sketches.
  • Humorous Story Arcs: Each entry develops a humorous story arc around the figure’s life, highlighting their quirks, achievements, and failures.

Point of View:

  • Satirical Narrator: The book is written from the perspective of a satirical narrator, offering humorous and often cynical commentary on the figures and events described.
  • Multiple Perspectives: The book touches upon various historical perspectives, often revealing the diverse ways in which people have viewed the same events or individuals.

How It’s Written:

  • Humorous and Sarcastic Tone: The author uses a witty and sarcastic tone to deliver their biographical sketches, often employing hyperbole and understatement for comedic effect.
  • Example: “Napoleon, a little Frenchman who wore a big hat, a little curl on his forehead, and whose ambitions were larger than his good luck.”


  • Humorous and Sardonic: The book’s tone is predominantly humorous and sardonic, often employing irony and wit to convey its message.

Life Choices:

  • The Pursuit of Fame: Many characters make choices driven by their desire for fame, often pursuing it with varying degrees of success.
  • The Value of Morality: The book explores the choices individuals make based on their morals and ethics, highlighting the complexity of human behavior.


  • The Futility of Fame: The book suggests that the pursuit of fame is often a futile endeavor, as it is fleeting and ultimately meaningless.
  • The Importance of Humility: The book emphasizes the importance of humility and self-awareness, suggesting that true greatness often lies in recognizing one’s limitations.
  • The Value of a Sense of Humor: The book highlights the power of humor to cope with the absurdities of life and to see things in a more balanced perspective.


  • Historical Figures: The book features a wide range of historical figures, both real and fictional, from biblical figures to emperors, explorers, and entertainers.
  • Satirical Portrayals: Each character is presented in a humorous and often satirical light, highlighting their quirks, flaws, and accomplishments.
  • Example: “Napoleon, a little Frenchman who wore a big hat, a little curl on his forehead, and whose ambitions were larger than his good luck.”


  • The Nature of Fame: The book explores the meaning and significance of fame, questioning its enduring value and the motivations behind its pursuit.
  • The Human Condition: The book offers a satirical reflection on human nature, highlighting our strengths, weaknesses, and often contradictory behaviors.
  • The Absurdities of Life: The book emphasizes the absurdity and irony of life, showing how even the most significant events and figures can be viewed with a sense of humor.


  • Satire as a Tool for Social Commentary: The book uses satire to critique social institutions, political figures, and human behavior.
  • Humor as a Means of Understanding: The book utilizes humor to illuminate the complexities and absurdities of life, offering a more nuanced and insightful perspective.

Intentions of the Characters:

  • Ambition and Achievement: Many characters are driven by ambition and a desire to achieve greatness, often with humorous consequences.
  • The Pursuit of Happiness: Some characters seek happiness through fame, love, or other endeavors, often finding that the journey is more complicated than they anticipated.

Unique Vocabulary:

  • “Waser”: This term, used often throughout the biographies, is a humorous slang term to describe someone who has lost their previous level of fame or success.
  • “Hen-pecked”: This word, frequently used to describe the relationship between Punch and Judy, highlights the author’s satirical approach to gender roles and domesticity.


  • The Story of Jonah: This story, with its elements of divine intervention, defiance, and ultimate survival, is used to highlight the absurdity of blind faith and the unexpected twists and turns of fate.
  • The Story of Don Quixote: This story, with its humorous tale of a knight errant battling windmills, is used to underscore the importance of realism and the dangers of pursuing impossible dreams.


  • The Fragility of Fame: The book emphasizes the fleeting nature of fame and the potential for even the most celebrated individuals to be forgotten.
  • The Importance of Perspective: The book encourages readers to approach life with a sense of humor and perspective, finding the absurd and the ironic in everyday experiences.

Facts and Findings:

  • Historical Figures and Events: The book provides a humorous and satirical recounting of various historical figures and events, offering a unique perspective on the past.
  • Social Commentary: The book offers a satirical perspective on social customs, beliefs, and institutions, reflecting the author’s views on society.


  • The book doesn’t explicitly use statistics. However, it often uses exaggeration and humorous comparisons to convey its satirical message.

Points of View:

  • Satirical Perspective: The book is written from a satirical point of view, offering a humorous and often critical perspective on the figures and events described.
  • Subjective Interpretation: The book’s interpretations of historical events and figures are subjective, reflecting the author’s biases and sense of humor.


  • Humorous and Cynical: The book’s perspective is characterized by a blend of humor and cynicism, offering a unique and often subversive interpretation of history.
  • The Absurdity of Life: The book emphasizes the absurdity and irony of human experience, encouraging readers to find humor in even the most serious events and figures.

Learn more

What is the best quiz for you business?

Quizzes are super effective for lead generation and selling products. Find the best quiz for your business by answering a few questions.

Take the quiz