History is comprised of apparently trivial moments coming together to make big changes. A busted canon, a job rejection, a casual meeting, a fortuitous mistake can change life on a grandiose, sometimes worldwide scale. Author Thomas J. Thorson plots a collection of these paradoxically decisive moments in readable and discriminating detail in SERENDIPITY: SEEMINGLY RANDOM EVENTS, INSIGNIFICANT DECISIONS, AND ACCIDENTAL DISCOVERIES THAT ALTERED HISTORY.
SERENDIPITY contains several cogent, entertaining passages showcasing both individual historic events and thematic arcs that helped shape the drama of our world. Among the assortment of characters at play are such heavy hitters as Genghis Khan, Abraham Lincoln, the Rolling Stones, and Roman emperor Constantine. Thorson also puts the spotlight on many curious inventions beget of novel circumstances and odd collisions of chance. Who knew that so many children’s toys were the product of defense or industrial research? Or that the cast-off of refrigeration testing would keep our grilled cheese from sticking to the pan?
SERENDIPITY strives to have something for everyone – there’s warfare, rock songs, food factoids, diplomacy, and technology to name a few. Thorson eschews narrow themes and time periods allowing SERENDIPITY to span an assortment of eras and subject matter. Clearly, SERENDIPITY favors agility over depth, making for digestible pacing. Perhaps some of Thorson’s accounts aren’t particularly uncharted for historians in the know. Even the most novice students have probably heard the story of penicillin. And anyone with even a passing familiarity with the seminal ‘90s rom-com Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion knows from whence Post-its originally came.
The book’s small scale also leaves the reader a trifle unsatisfied. The realm of historical happenstance is a compelling and ripe area for examination. One wonders if Thorson might be able to give something a bit more. Still, SERENDIPITY is a worthwhile although abbreviated foray through the tunnels of the past. Thorson pulls back the curtain of history and shows how random yet consequential our small moments can be.
Thorson provides a lithe read for those fond of the minutiae of history and social phenomena. Instead of tending toward the academic tone of many similar studies, SERENDIPITY provides a nimble yet immersive jaunt through the annals of time suitable for readers of all experience levels.
~Nicki Yowell for IndieReader