History's Mysteries, by Brian Haughton (Softcover, 2010)|
(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)
Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.
Like its predecessor, this book is fun and informative. Having previously
reviewed Haughton's excellent Hidden History (which came out in 2007), I had
certain expectations of this book and was not disappointed.
His previous book explored 49 historical mysteries (and thumbnails and
additional 40). This one explores 35.
As with his previous book, this one avoids "death by detail," giving you enough
information to understand the basic questions surrounding a particular mystery
and some clues to help you form some basis for further exploration if one
particularly strikes your fancy.
As with his previous book, Haughton holds to high standards of editorial
integrity. However, with this book the standards of proofreading have slipped a
bit. I noticed a fair number of copyediting errors.
Even with the copyediting errors, this is another highly readable and informative
book that addresses the major mysteries of history. It deserves to be on the bookshelf next to the
It's common in history-related works for authors to present fiction as fact,
even if unintentionally. A great example of this problem is the large number of
books about America's non-existent "Civil War." The war they are referring to
was a war of secession (leaving the established government), not a civil war
(fighting to take it over). There are political reasons for this distortion, and
unfortunately many authors pass this along.
When you move to the kinds of topics Haughton covers, the risk of this problem
is even greater. That's why, for example, you can find starkly opposed
viewpoints on the same historical or archeological topic. As Haughton reveals in
his book, he encountered such works while doing his research.
In between reading Haughton's two books, I read or skimmed related books and
watched related documentary videos. As my previous comments indicate, these
various works aren't 100% harmonious. One reason for that is different authors
give different weight to different sources and theories. And authors do that
because they have an agenda to meet or an opinion to support so they filter all
their findings through a particular lens.
Haughton isn't proposing to explain anything, as in "this is what actually
happened." As the title says, these are mysteries. Haughton doesn't call them
mysteries and then presume to solve them as if they aren't mysteries. As I noted
earlier, he holds to high standards of editorial integrity. The mysteries stay
mysterious, as they should.
In the writing, it's obvious Haughton did some serious research. His
bibliography is just over 11 pages long, plus he has just over two pages (more)
of photo credits listed. I did take a little time to examine the quality of the
sources he used and was suitably impressed.
This book consists of three Parts spread across 263 pages (several of which are blank pages between parts or chapter ends, and the actual text starts on page 11):
- Part I: Mysterious Places
- Part II: Unexplained Artifacts
- Part III: Enigmatic People
It also has an Introduction, Bibliography, Index, and About the Author.
If you want something other than sports and the weather to talk about (knowing that politics and religion are off limits), Haughton's books can help fill that void. You might consider just dropping the question, "What's your opinion of the golden hats of Central Europe?" into a conversation. But it might be more productive to share a copy of the book with your favorite chapter or two clearly identified for later discussion.