Grove Press: Elements of Fiction by Walter Mosley

Humans: A Brief History of How We F*cked It All Up

For everyone who's ever said, "We'll look back on this one day and laugh"--and even anyone who hasn't--Tim Phillips's Humans: A Brief History of How We F*cked It All Up is for you. The London journalist looks back on the whole of human existence to examine some truly catastrophic mishaps in areas such as the environment, war, colonization and more. And through his theme of "our deep and consistent ability to fool ourselves with stories and delusions about what it is we're actually doing," he gives his readers plenty to chuckle about.

Beginning with Lucy, whose fossilized remains introduced scientists to a new species they believe is the missing link between humans and apes; touching on the Cuyahoga River catching fire, repeatedly; and even analyzing Hitler's invasion of Russia (a rerun of Napoleon's fiasco), Phillips employs brilliantly sarcastic wit to make his history text lively, informative and superbly entertaining. He calls out humans on their propensity for greed, and he identifies racism, often mocking the utter idiocy of rationalizations for bigotry--as he does in his coverage of Easter Island: " 'Aliens must have done it' is a remarkably popular and obviously extremely rational solution to the conundrum of nonwhite people building things that white people can't imagine them having built."

Humans have a colorful history of mucking things up. Sometimes it's because of the skills we have that other species do not--seeing patterns, communicating, imagining the future--sometimes it's as simple as greed, arrogance or alcohol. But no matter the reason, Phillips delivers the story with clever style and verve, making it fascinating and fun. --Jen Forbus