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Book Review of: Hidden History

Lost civilizations, secret knowledge, and ancient mysteries

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Review of Hidden History, by Brian Haughton (Softcover, 2007)

(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)

Reviewer: 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.




About these reviews

You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?

I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?

And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.

This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.

My reviews, contrary to current (non) standards, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.

A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.

About your reviewer

  • Books are a passion of mine. I read dozens of them each year, plus I listen to audio books.
  • Most of my "reading diet" consists of nonfiction. I think life is too short to use your limited reading time on material that has little or no substance. That leads into my next point...
  • In 1990, I stopped watching television. I have not missed it. At all.
  • I was first published as a preteen. I wrote an essay, and my teacher submitted it to the local paper.
  • For six years, I worked as an editor for a trade publication. I left that job in 2002, and still do freelance editing and authoring for that publication (and for other publications).
  • No book has emerged from my mind onto the best-seller list. So maybe I'm presumptuous in judging the work of others. Then again, I do more describing than judging in my reviews. And I have so many articles now published that I stopped counting them at 6,000. When did I stop? Probably 20,000 articles ago! (It's been a while).
  • I have an engineering degree and an MBA, among other "quant" degrees. That helps explain my methodical approach toward reviews.
  • You probably don't know anybody who has made a perfect or near perfect score on a test of Standard Written English. I have. So, a credential for whatever it's worth.

About reading style

No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.

Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read.

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