Mysteries from History

The old truism -- “truth is stranger than fiction” -- is vividly illustrated in these explorations of oddities and puzzles from the past. Enjoy!

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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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 Lost King of France: How DNA Solved the Mystery of the Murdered Son of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette

By Deborah Cadbury

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"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... ."

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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."
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Who Murdered Chaucer: A Medieval Mystery

By Terry Jones

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"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."

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The Search for Nefertiti

By Joann Fletcher

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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.

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The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary

By Simon Winchester

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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.

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The Poet and the Murderer: A True Story of Literary Crime and the Art of Forgery

By Simon Worrall

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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.

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The Man in the Ice: The Discovery of a 5,000-year-old Body Reveals the Secrets of the Stone Age

By Konrad Spindler

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"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."

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