Booktalk: Ask the Past by Elizabeth P. Archibald

Ask the Past cover

I first heard about Ask the Past when I was listening to an episode of the Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast.  Elizabeth P. Archibald was being interviewed, and she talked about how she’d started the Ask the Past blog which turned into the Ask the Past book.  Even though this book was written for an adult audience, I thought that it might be worth reading because I’m always looking for nonfiction books (especially funny nonfiction books to balance out all of my depressing fiction books) that I could share with teens.  I was pleased to discover that this would be a great book to share with teens, although I am leaning towards high school rather than middle school because of the book’s higher reading level.

Also, I just wanted to mention that this is one of my favorite types of booktalks.  It’s basically a list, and if I leave out some of the items on the list it’s okay and if I rearrange the order of the items on the list it’s also okay.  This is always a good quality in a booktalk which can be very helpful if I lose my place while I’m talking or if I see that the kids in my audience don’t have the attention span I thought they did and I need to cut things short.


Sometimes you can get good advice by listening to people who are older than you.  Your parents and even your grandparents can try to point you in the right direction, and sometimes their advice will be good and sometimes it’ll be too old-fashioned and it won’t work.

This book is filled with advice that is much older than your parents or your grandparents.  It’s filled with advice from books that are hundreds of years old!  Sometimes the advice still works, but more often it’s really REALLY ridiculous.  For example, people used to believe:

  • that you could cure a nosebleed by using powdered toad
  • that you could cure insomnia by putting lettuce in your bed
  • that if you wanted to check if someone was alive or dead you should apply roasted onion to his nostrils (because if he was alive, he would scratch his nose)
  • that if you want to attack a ship you should throw jars of soap and hog’s fat to make the deck slippery so your enemies will fall down
  • that you could lose weight by eating bread, butter, and 3-4 cloves of garlic every morning and every evening
  • that you could cure seasickness by putting dirt under your nose
  • that you could cure laryngitis by applying a thin piece of raw beef to your forehead overnight
  • that you could get your hair to grow back by rubbing your bald spots with ground onions
  • that you could get rid of mosquitoes by fumigating your home with elephant dung
  • that you could win a court case if you carried the teeth, skin, and eyes of a wolf with you, and …
  • that you could heal a wound by covering it with a piece of raw bacon

You can learn all about these pieces of unusual advice and many more by reading —

Ask the Past: Pertinent and Impertinent Advice From Yesteryear by Elizabeth P. Archibald

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