Mysteries from History

Dead Certainties: Unwarranted Speculations

By Simon Schama

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"…Schama reconstructs -- and at times reinvents -- two ambiguous deaths: the first, that of General James Wolfe at the battle of Quebec in 1759; the second, in 1849, that of George Parkman, an eccentric Boston brahmin whose murder by an impecunious Harvard professor in 1849 was a grisly reproach to the moral sanctity of his society. Out of these stories -- with all of their bizarre coincidences and contradictions -- Schama creates a dazzling and supremely vital work of historical imagination."

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Ghosty Men: The Strange but True Story of the Collyer Brothers, New York's Greatest Hoarders, an Urban Historical

By Franz Lidz

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“Homer and Langley Collier moved into their handsome brownstone in white, upper-class Harlem in 1909. By 1947, however, when the fire department was forced to lower Homer's dead body by rope out of the house he hadn't left in nearly a decade, the neighborhood had degentrified, and the Collyers' home had become a sealed fortress of junk. Dedicated to preserving the past, the brothers had held on to virtually everything they had ever touched. …The front-page scandal of the discovery of Homer's body and the worldwide search for his brother, Langley, is interwoven with the heartbreaking story of the author's uncle Arthur, whose own tower of 'stuff' topples when he is blindsided by a mysterious and seductive femme fatale.”

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Lieutenant Nun: Memoir of a Basque Transvestite in the New World

By Catalina de Erauso

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“Born in 1585, Catalina de Erauso led one of the most wildly fantastic lives of any woman in history. Refusing to be regimented into the quiet habits of a nun's life, she escaped from a Basque convent at age fourteen dressed as a man, and continuing her deception, ventured to Peru and Chile as a soldier in the Spanish army. After mistakenly killing her own brother in a duel, she roamed the Andean highlands, becoming a gambler and a killer, and always just evading the grasp of the law.”

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Mystery of the Ancient Seafarers

By Robert D. Ballard with Toni Eugene

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"In a beautiful volume featuring more than 170 maps and photographs, Mystery of the Ancient Seafarers follows the latest pursuits of National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Robert D. Ballard as he searches for clues to the ancient civilizations of the Mediterranean. An immediate tie-in with the 2004 PBS special, Ballard's excavation focuses primarily on the story of the Phoenicians--traders who ruled Mediterranean commerce for 1,000 years, then disappeared. A showcase of National Geographic's greatest strengths--exploration, discovery, and intricate maps--Mystery of the Ancient Seafarers is a fascinating journey through the depths of the Mediterranean and centuries of time."

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Roanoke: Solving the Mystery of the Lost Colony

By Lee Miller

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"... provides clear and convincing explanations for the disappearance of the late 16th-century British settlement on Roanoke Island off North Carolina. In probing Native American land disputes and intrigue, Miller uncovers the reasons for the colonists' disappearance. Miller's prose is commanding as she speculates on what really happened to the colonists after they left Roanoke and on the inevitability of their leaving. An ethnohistorian and anthropologist, Miller authoritatively removes the fog she claims was intentionally wrapped around this mystery."
Publishers' Weekly review

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Shakespeare: Who Was He? The Oxford Challenge to the Bard of Avon

By Richard Whalen

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"Debate has swirled for years around that most significant of literary problems, the authorship of Shakespeare's works. Now Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, a recognized poet and playwright, has eclipsed Bacon, Marlowe, and all the other candidates for authorship honors. Lengthy and specialized studies have detailed the historico-literary case for Oxford and against the man from Stratford-on-Avon . . . Shakespeare: Who Was He? is the first book to give the general reader a clear, readable, concise analysis of the arguments for both men. Most intriguing are the many direct parallels between Oxford's life and Shakespeare's works, especially in Hamlet, the most autobiographical of the plays."

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The Arcanum: The Extraordinary True Story

By Janet Gleeson

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"An extraordinary episode in cultural & scientific history comes to life in the fascinating story of a genius, greed, & exquisite beauty revealed by the obsessive pursuit of the secret formula for one of the most precious commodities of eighteenth century European royalty-fine porcelain."

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The Billionaire's Vinegar: The Mystery of the World's Most Expensive Bottle of Wine

By Benjamin Wallace

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"It was the most expensive bottle of wine ever sold. In 1985, a 1787 bottle of Chateau Lafite Bordeaux--one of a cache unearthed in a bricked-up Paris cellar and supposedly owned by Thomas Jefferson--sold at auction for $156,000. The discoverer of the bottle was pop-band manager turned wine collector Hardy Rodenstock, who had a knack for finding extremely old and exquisite wines. But rumors soon arose. Why wouldn't Rodenstock reveal the exact location where it had been found? Was it part of a smuggled Nazi hoard? Or did his reticence conceal an even darker secret? Author Wallace also offers a history of wine, complete with vivid accounts of subterranean European laboratories where old vintages are dated and of Jefferson's colorful, wine-soaked days in France. This tale of what could be the most elaborate con since the Hitler diaries is also the debut of a new voice in narrative non-fiction."

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The Circus Fire: A True Story

By Stewart O'Nan

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“Halfway through a midsummer afternoon performance, Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus's big top caught fire. The tent had been waterproofed with a mixture of paraffin and gasoline; in seconds it was burning out of control, and more than 8,000 people were trapped inside. Drawing on interviews with hundreds of survivors, O'Nan skillfully re-creates the horrific events and illuminates the psychological oddities of human behavior under stress: the mad scramble for the exits; the hero who tossed dozens of children to safety before being trampled to death. The toll of the fire, and its circumstances, haunt Hartford to the present day--the identity of one young victim, known only as Little Miss 1565, remains an enduring mystery and a source of conflict in the city.”

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The Dancing Plague: The Strange, True Story of an Extraordinary Illness

By John Waller

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"In the searing July heat of 1518, Frau Troffea stepped into the streets of Strasbourg and began to dance. Bathed in sweat, she continued to dance. Overcome with exhaustion, she stopped, and then resumed her solitary jig a few hours later. Over the next two months, roughly four hundred people succumbed to the same agonizing compulsion. At its peak, the epidemic claimed the lives of fifteen men, women, and children a day. Possibly 100 people danced to their deaths in one of the most bizarre and terrifying plagues in history.

"John Waller compellingly evokes the sights, sounds, and aromas; the diseases and hardships; the fervent supernaturalism and the desperate hedonism of the late medieval world. Based on new evidence, he explains why the plague occurred and how it came to an end... ."

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