Forgotten History: Unbelievable Moments from the Past by Jem Duducu

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Forgotten History: Unbelievable Moments from the Past by Jem Duducu

Category: History
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
Reviewed by John Van der Kiste
Summary: A delightful volume of alternative history, for which Jem Duducu has trawled magnificently through the ages from several centuries BC up to the present day. Some of his stories are amusing, some tragic, some astonishing, and the result is a very enjoyable work into which an immense amount of research has evidently gone, yet still makes for relatively light reading, ideal for dipping into or reading from cover to cover.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: June 2016
Publisher: Amberley Publishing
ISBN: 978-1445656342

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The numerous highways, byways and tangents of the chronicle of our life on earth provide the raw rata for any number of alternative histories, and in this book Jem Duducu has trawled magnificently through the ages from several centuries BC up to the present day.

In his words, here are 'over 180 different stories, which are of varying importance to history' – some provocative, some truly despicable, and a few just plain fun. A number will be familiar to some degree. The swastika, we are reminded, was a symbol used for thousands of years by Hindus, and also widely used by the Ancient Greeks, Vikings and others before it was misappropriated by the Nazis. William 'the Silent', Prince of Orange, was a highly capable politician, diplomat and military commander in sixteenth-century Netherlands, but who also had the misfortune to incur the wrath of Philip of Spain and became the first head of state to be assassinated with a gun. Nearer to our own time, just a century ago, we have the tale of Rasputin, the man whose self-appointed hitmen only succeeded in killing after several almost farcically-botched attempts. Owing to our preoccupation with the last sad days of the Romanovs, it is a well-known tale, but in a book of this nature it can certainly bear another retelling.

Duducu is good at putting a new spin on events as well. Who can resist the story of the hack who eked out a living writing magazine articles and biographies while taking nine years to create his masterpiece, a book with no plot and no characters? The author was Samuel Johnson and the book was his Dictionary of the English Language, long considered the finest of its kind though not the first. Richard Mulcaster was responsible for the first English dictionary in 1582, comprising 8000 words – but not in alphabetical order.

But you will almost certainly almost come across several things for the first time in these pages. You thought that hobbits were a figment of J.R.R. Tolkien's imagination? Not so, apparently – a species of hominids was discovered in 2003 on Flores Island, Indonesia, although admittedly long after the author's time, which makes him sound remarkably prescient. Did you hear about the statue in Thassos, during classical times, which was put on trial for murder and thrown into the sea as a punishment, and then retrieved from the deep as the islanders feared that otherwise they would be punished with disaster and famine? Equally bizarre was the staging of a genuine train crash in Texas in 1896, done to drum up tourism. Spectators were invited to come and watch (and gorge themselves on food and drink, which unlike the 'entertainment' was not laid on free of charge) at a safe pre-arranged viewing point. Sadly, nobody had anticipated that anything might go wrong, but in the ensuing carnage one man lost an eye from a steel bolt and three others were killed. And if you want the basic facts about a Nazi plot to kidnap the Pope, or the history of the Bermuda Triangle, or simply who was the last person to be executed in the Tower of London, you need look no further.

I could mention many more nuggets, like Marie Antoinette's extraordinarily expensive wedding dress, the battle of Los Angeles in World War Two which inspired Steven Spielberg's only comedy movie and only complete flop to date, the battle of Castle Itter three years later in which the Americans fought on the same side as Austrian partisans and French prisoners against SS guards, and the origins of the necktie which was apparently the fault of 17th century Croatian mercenaries. It is a very enjoyable book into which an immense amount of research has evidently gone, yet still makes for relatively light reading, ideal for dipping into or reading from cover to cover.

For more slightly offbeat historical reading, may we also recommend How English Became English: A short history of a global language by Simon Horobin, or alternatively, another sweep across the centuries in A History of the World in Numbers by Emma Marriott.

Buy Forgotten History: Unbelievable Moments from the Past by Jem Duducu at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Forgotten History: Unbelievable Moments from the Past by Jem Duducu at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Forgotten History: Unbelievable Moments from the Past by Jem Duducu at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Forgotten History: Unbelievable Moments from the Past by Jem Duducu at Amazon.com.


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