Hidden History, by Brian Haughton (Softcover, 2007)|
(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you
want a hardcopy)
Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.
This book is fun and informative. It explores 49 historical mysteries.
Most of these are well-known and well-misunderstood. It also thumbnails,
typically with a single paragraph, 40 more historical mysteries.
Because this book doesn't go too deeply into any one subject, Hidden
History fills a niche. Most people hold strong opinions on things
political, religious, or ancient. But ask them to explain and you rarely
get a factual basis for that opinion (not that it's wrong, mind
you--it's just baseless). They read something somewhere or heard some
scuttlebutt sometime, so now they "know" a story but can't explain why
from a basis in fact. Often, that "knowledge" is actually wrong.
The "obvious" solution is for the opinion holder to do some serious
research. But that doesn't happen, because people lack the time and the
inclination to wade through dense academic texts. It's just easier to go
with what you already think you know. That's where this book comes in.
The author constrains the scope of the writing on each mystery to what a
typical reader is likely to absorb (or care about). People who write
technical or scientific articles are well aware of the challenges
involved in deciding what to leave out, so that the kernel is
communicated to the reader.
The result of Mr. Haughton's effort is a highly readable and informative work that addresses the major
mysteries of history. You can read on a given topic and "get it" within
a few minutes. No need to spend two hours trying to absorb minutiae. Nor
do you need to read three dozen volumes to cover these topics.
We live in a society in which something like only 40% of people read two
or more books a year. Followers of my reviews know I personally read
more than a dozen times that many each year; they may not know that I
also "read" about 120 audio books a year. Anyhow, the demographics on
reading instruct us as to what mix of depth and breadth is appropriate
for a general audience.
An author can choose to go into great detail on one topic and leave the
other forty or so unaddressed, or the author can produce a book like
this one. I think Mr. Haughton made the correct choice. And because of that choice, people
other than academics will have some basic knowledge of history's greatest mysteries.
Most people don't particularly care to be experts on bog bodies or
Egyptian pyramids. Or, for that matter, any historical topic. But you
have a winner when you put a collection together, make it easy to read,
and stick to the highlights. Which is what Mr. Haughton has done in this case.
The work appears accurate, to me. Mr. Haughton doesn't provide his sources, though. No footnotes,
endnotes, or bibliography. He does provide a 10-page listing of sources
under the heading "Further Information" and these are organized into
groupings directly related to the book's chapters (and in that order).
Presumably, the author looked at or read these sources, so perhaps they
were the ones he used for the book.
The tone in which Mr. Haughton writes is that of a tertiary source (primary being an original
researcher, secondary being one whose sources are primary). So, no
pretense and a good, almost conversational style. It's easy to read. The
text does contain more editorial/copy errors than I would like, but
those don't impede the reading very much.
This book consists of four Parts spread across 256 pages (several of which
are blank pages between parts or chapter ends, and the actual text
starts on page 15):
- Part I: Mysterious Places
- Part II: Unexplained Artifacts
- Part III: Enigmatic People
- Part IV: Some Further Mysteries to Ponder
It also has a Foreword, Introduction, index, Further Information (sources
to read), and About the Author.
I think this book makes a good addition to anyone's personal library.
It's also a good read for kids in middle school or higher. I wouldn't
use it as a bibliographical reference for a research paper, but if
writing such a paper I would use it to get my mind wrapped around the
topic and to get a list of sources to start with.