Think of this as a hilarious Barry column that runs on for 178 pages. It's a satire on U.S. history—and history books—spiced by 300 or so random jokes, such footnotes as "1. It doesn't matter," and such discussion questions as "Do you think 'Checkers' is a good name for a dog?"
In tone, shrewd editing and tendency to roam in and out of historical coherence, the book recalls Stan Freberg's record The United States of America. Barry, whose Miami Herald column is widely syndicated, notes, for instance, that one of the colonists' objections to British rule was the tax forms: "To determineth the amounteth thou canst claimeth for depreciation to thine cow, deducteth the amount showneth on Line XVLIICX-A of Schedule XIV, from the amount showneth on Line CVXILIIVMM of Schedule XVVII.... No, waiteth, we meanth Line XCII of Schedule CXVIILMM.... No, holdeth it, wemeaneth...."
Elsewhere Barry lists the highlights of Millard Fillmore's administration: "The Earth did not crash into the Sun." He recalls President Truman's first order of business after World War II: "to work with the leaders of the other devastated and war-weary nations to establish some kind of mechanism to guarantee that there would be lasting world peace for a couple of months while everybody developed better weapons." He defines the Berlin Crisis: "When the Russians noticed that every morning approximately 173,000 East Berlin residents commuted to work in West Berlin, and every evening approximately eight of them commuted back." He discusses Walter Mondale's presidential candidacy: "He went on to lose so badly that people are still, years later, showing up at the polls at all hours of the day and night and demanding an opportunity to vote against him."
It's true that you could learn more from reading the side of your standard cereal box than from reading this book. But the book is rather funnier and meets the minimum daily requirements if you put it in a big bowl and cover it with a half gallon of milk, three cups of sugar, some cauliflower and a ham hock. (Random House, $15.95)