Imagine if Elizabeth Cady Stanton had been distracted from her suffrage efforts because she fell in love, Hallmark movie-style, with a local Seneca Falls man. Or if Emily Dickinson contacted tech support but could only communicate in her trademark poetic style. Or if the Gettysburg Address had been written by “The West Wing” creator Aaron Sorkin.
Alexandra Petri has long entertained Washington Post readers with her absurdist columns on the latest political and pop culture news. In her dazzling book of historical humor, Alexandra Petri’s US History: Important American Documents (I Made Up), she shows again why legendary humor writer Dave Barry called her “the funniest person in Washington.” Petri’s seemingly effortless ability to reimagine American history in the most bizarre ways makes this one of the most entertaining books you’ll read this year.
In an essay titled “Why the National Parks Were Set Aside,” Petri records the reasons she assumes some of our most famous landmarks were preserved: “Yellowstone: GEYSER SQUIRTS HUGE AMOUNTS OF WATER INTO AIR WITHOUT WARNING. . . . Zion: Seems steep. . . . Grand Canyon: Big hole in the ground without proper signage. Leave it as it is.” And in “John and Abigail Adams Try Sexting,” Petri imagines the Founding Father and his wife writing a series of racy (for the 1700s) letters while he is in Paris. “I am attired in a woolen gown and a cap of a stiff linen material, as well as five petticoats, my bustle, and my customary stays. I was wearing stockings, but I am not wearing them any longer,” Abigail writes. “I hope that soon you shall be wearing merely four!” John replies.
Petri’s previous book of essays, the excellent Nothing Is Wrong and Here Is Why, focused on current topics such as QAnon conspiracies and the Trump administration. This new collection feels somewhat sweeter and gentler, albeit still side-splittingly funny. It’s a satirical salve at a time when we need humor more than ever.