Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Reader's Digest Special Edition: The Greatest Stories Never Told- 230 Tales from History to Astonish, Bewilder and Stupefy by Rick Beyer

History is very interesting, but when it comes to teaching it to schoolchildren, oftentimes the more interesting bits that would get kids interested in the subject are thrown out in favor of teaching what must be known, or in making history seem like it is inevitable and not very interesting at all.

This book collects 230 different stories that many or most people are unaware of that put a human face on history, from the 7th grader who served in the battle of Midway, people whose names became enshrined in popular culture because of something they did, strange and wonderful inventions, stories almost too strange to be true (but which actually are), successes and failures, stories of government gone awry, twists of fate that changed the course of wars and nations, and the hows and whys behind the facts of history.

Even if you aren't a schoolchild anymore, this book will fascinate with stories like the 12 year old who served in the Battle of Midway; Weird Wars like the War of Jenkin's Ear; the story of the Dutch people, who may have been invaded by the Germans, but who gave them hell right up until 1943; the real-life Doctor who was the Inspiration for Sherlock Holmes; The Battle of Trenton, the least remembered Battle of the Revolution, which nearly ended the Revolution for good; The world's worst speculation crash, and no, it wasn't the Stock Market Crash of 1929; The one vote which decided an election (really- so the next time someone tries to tell you one vote doesn't count, you'll know it's not true!); The Custody Battle which might have really made a difference in the way America is governed; The little girl who convinced Abe Lincoln to grow a beard; and the man who predicted 9/11, and died in an attempt to make sure that the survivors got out of the Towers when the unthinkable happened.

All of these stories are true, and there are plenty more besides. Anyone who loves history will enjoy this book, and even those who don't love history at all will find themselves fascinated and charmed by the stories therein. Most are just two or three pages long, which makes it an easy book to read in odd moments or to stop and start reading at any time. The stories are enlivened with pictures and artwork, and all of them are completely true. At the end of the book is information that will allow interested readers to look up more information about these famous stories and learn more.

And these aren't the only interesting and weird stories throughout history. There are plenty that pop out of the pages of history, like the Funeral Mozart gave for his pet bird (including numerous paid mourners), and why Beethoven kept a chamber pot under his harpsichord (he didn't have time to get up to do his business!), among others. Once you have read this book, there are plenty more to tempt the reader interested in History and why things happened a certain way. ("Lies My Teacher Told Me" and the "Don't Know Much About History" series, among others.)

This is an excellent book to get anyone interested in History and the way things could have been, or the way things happened that we never heard about in school. Anyone with the slightest interest in History or interesting stories should seek out this book for themselves. Highly recommended.

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