Martin J. Smith & Patrick J. Kiger
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Buy *Poplorica: A Popular History of the Fads, Mavericks, Inventions, and Lore that Shaped Modern America* online

Poplorica: A Popular History of the Fads, Mavericks, Inventions, and Lore that Shaped Modern America
Martin J. Smith & Patrick J. Kliger
304 pages
March 2004
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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If you’ve ever wanted to know about the guy who invented the Big Bertha golf club, the genius behind pantyhose, the social impact of the TV dinner, or maybe the history behind permanent press clothing, Poplorica is the book for you. Filled with such tales of the irreverent, this book documents the discoveries, inventions and grand schemes behind some of the most unusual events of the twentieth century – events that in some way, shape or form changed the way we humans live.

Both veteran journalists whose work has appeared in major national publications, Smith and Kiger take us on a long, strange trip through American culture and ingenuity, letting us in on some of the most unheralded but somewhat critical people, social trends and product concepts of our time. For example, who could forget the American expatriate artist Edgar Leeteg, who created that lovely art form of, uh, black velvet painting. Or maybe you prefer reading about how former first lady Betty Ford’s publicized intervention and rehab led to a major rise in addicts checking themselves into clinics, not to mention publicizing it for maximum interest. Or how about the story of Dr. Lulu Hunt Peters, the very first author of the very first weight loss bestseller, which spawned a multi-billion dollar publishing bonanza as “thin became in.” Yes, folks, before their was Dr. Phil, there was Dr. Lulu.

There is the story of sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, whose own sex life was very interesting indeed (the stuff of novels!), and the creation of Extreme Ironing, an actual sport invented in 1997 that involves using solar or battery-powered irons to iron shirts whilst scaling mountains or riding the rough rapids in a kayak. Yes, you heard me right. Guys actually do this, while their wives no doubt are at home ironing their work shirts.

My favorite tale of poplorica involves the invention of disposable diapers, thanks be to God in heaven! Seems two competing scientists patented the idea at the same time, and it really doesn’t matter which thought of it first, because it has saved the lives of moms like me with toddlers who just don’t think before they, well, you know.

I also thoroughly enjoyed reading about the first radio shock jock, Joe Pyne, who literally ushered in the era of hate radio and loud, obnoxious white men blaming everyone but themselves for their misery. I also got a kick out of the tale of a revolutionary book that changed homeowner history forever – a book about taking care of your lawn by a guy named Frank J. Scott. Little did he know he would be condemning millions of American dads to mowing their own precious lawns every Saturday morning. Also fun are the histories behind the Les Paul guitar, pantyhose, the importance of product placement in movies, the rise and downfall of the Edsel, the conception of celebrity voyeurism, the life and times of wrestler and lingerie-lover Gorgeous George, and so many other delightfully interesting tales of who did what, when, and why it mattered.

The problem with a book like this is that it has to leave so many wonderful stories out, and pick and choose what goes in. Luckily the authors include their email address so people like me can send them ideas for a sequel. Still, this is an enjoyable, entertaining, enlightening and educational book about the goofy and not so goofy stuff we see and do and use every day, yet may not know the history behind. The stuff that makes America the greatest, and often the most innovative and unusual, country on earth. After all, what other country could possibly give the world something as important to human evolution as…the TV dinner?

© 2004 by Marie D. Jones for curledup.com.

buy *Poplorica: A Popular History of the Fads, Mavericks, Inventions, and Lore that Shaped Modern America* online
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