Mysteries from History

Simon Schama

"…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."

Franz Lidz

“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.”

Catalina de Erauso

“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.”

Robert D. Ballard with Toni Eugene

"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."

Lee Miller

"... 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

Richard Whalen

"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."

Janet Gleeson

"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."

Benjamin Wallace

"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."

Stewart O'Nan

“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.”

John Waller

"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... ."

Erik Larson

"Before the turn of the 20th century, a city emerged seemingly out of the ash of then dangerous Chicago, a dirty, grimy, teeming place ravaged by urban problems. Daniel Burnham, the main innovator of the White City of the 1892 World's Fair, made certain that it became the antithesis of its parent city, born to glow and gleam with all that the new century would soon offer. While the great city of the future was hastily being planned and built, the specially equipped apartment building of one Herman Webster Mudgett was also being constructed. Living in a nearby suburb and walking among the hundreds of thousands of visitors who would eventually attend the fair, Mudgett, a doctor by profession more commonly known as H.H. Holmes, was really an early serial killer who preyed on the young female fair goers pouring into Chicago."
Also available on audio.

Michelle Stacey

In June 1865, 18-year-old Mollie Fancher was dragged by a Brooklyn trolley car for nearly a block, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down. She then took to her bed for the rest of her long life, becoming an international celebrity because she was able to survive without, apparently, ever eating. Was she a fraud, a saint or a victim of mental illness -- or a bit of all these things?

Deborah Cadbury

"Louis-Charles, Duc de Normandie, enjoyed a charmed early childhood in the gilded palace of Versailles. At the age of four, he became the dauphin, heir to the most powerful throne in Europe. Yet within five years he was to lose everything. Drawn into the horror of the French Revolution, his family was incarcerated and their fate thrust into the hands of the revolutionaries who wished to destroy the monarchy. In 1793, when Marie Antoinette was beheaded at the guillotine, she left her adored eight-year-old son imprisoned in the Temple Tower. Far from inheriting a throne, the orphaned boy-king had to endure the hostility and abuse of a nation. Two years later, the revolutionary leaders declared Louis XVII dead. No grave was dug, no monument built to mark his passing. Immediately, rumors spread that the prince had, in fact, escaped from prison and was still alive... ."

Konrad Spindler

"The story of the amazing discovery of a man frozen in the Alpine ice, told by the leader of the international team of scientists who investigated the find. A classic of scientific discovery that reveals to us the fullest picture yet of Neolithic man, our ancestor."

Simon Worrall

Mark Hofmann began his career by forging and selling rare Mormon coins, and quickly moved on to creating false, highly controversial religious documents that threw the Church of Latter-Day Saints into turmoil. But it was his infamous Emily Dickinson poem that would prove his greatest deception, stunning the art and literary worlds and earning him thousands from the most distinguished Dickinson scholars. It would also prove his ultimate undoing, when his desperation to keep his greatest forgery a secret drove him to commit ever more heinous crimes -including acts of shocking violence.

Simon Winchester

There are two tales in this page-turner. One is how the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) was compiled, which is fascinating in itself; and the other is a gripping story of a convicted murderer who spends his life sentence as a major contributor to the OED. This one stays in your mind for a long, long time.

Joann Fletcher

Dr. Fletcher investigates a mummy believed to be of little importance and discovers that it is the remains of Queen Nefertiti. She documents the 13 years she spent studying Nefertiti’s life and examines how the kings and queens of Egypt are viewed in popular culture, while explaining how modern technology and forensics have changed archaeology.

Terry Jones

"In this work of historical speculation Terry Jones and a team of international scholars investigate the mystery surrounding the death of Geoffrey Chaucer over 600 years ago.… What if he was murdered? What if he and his writings had become politically inconvenient in the seismic social shift that occurred with the overthrow of the liberal Richard II by the reactionary, oppressive regime of Henry IV? … This hypothesis is the introduction to a reading of Chaucer's writings as evidence that might be held against him, interwoven with a portrait of one of the most turbulent periods in English history, its politics and its personalities."