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Book Review of: History's Mysteries

People, Places, and Oddities Lost in the Sands of Time

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Review of History's Mysteries, by Brian Haughton (Softcover, 2010)

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

Reviewer: 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 other book.

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.




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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