Summary:History turns on small points. From the world’s most catastrophic game of chicken to the nail-biting success story at the Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River, discover fascinating events you’ve probably never heard of. In this compilation of eight true stories from the forgotten pages of history, learn about disasters caused by human error as well as calamities avoided by quick and clever thinking–the lawsuit that launched Abraham Lincoln’s political career, the collapse of the Teton Dam, the invention that revolutionized the world of sound, and more. This book is truly love at first sight for lovers of history.
I enjoyed this non-fiction book subtitled, “Little Known Inspiring True Stories from American History”. The book covers 8 “little known” historic events/happenings. As a listener of the Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast (it’s fantastic…check it out!) I may be a slightly biased reader, but I’d argue that some of these are not little known.
The book covers:
- The Halifax Explosion (of 1917) and the Boston Christmas Tree
- The Yellowstone Supervolcano
- Abraham Lincoln and the Rock Island Railroad Bridge Disaster
- Collapse of the Teton Dam
- Cornelius Vanderbilt’s contributions to the Civil War
- The Final Push of the Union Pacific (railway)
- Lee de Forest and the Audion Tube
- How 4 Feet of Plywood Saved the Grand Canyon
The stories were each very interesting and there were thing I had not heard about before. The mention of Brigham Young (of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) and his role in bringing the railroad to Utah was fascinating and I’d love to learn more about him. I have an inexplicable fascination with the Vanderbilt’s (a trip to Biltmore Estate in Ashville, NC has only fueled it) and it was interesting to learn more about Cornelius’s role in the war. In addition, each chapter had a bit from the author about his personal connection with this piece of history. Whether it was a vacation that inspired desire to learn more or having had a chance to meet some of the players in person it was neat to read his accounts of the inspiration for each of the chapters.
However, I had a couple of issues with how the book was written. Each chapter starts off with a summary of the topic that essential gives away the punch line. This would be okay it was a paper or an article where people might be skimming, but if I’ve picked up a book on a topic, you can bet I’m planning to read the whole thing. I found it disjoining to read the summary part and then start diving into details, some of which were a repeat of what I’d just read. References are given throughout the book, which is great. But a number of them are references to Wikipedia pages. I’ll be the first to admit to using wiki for lots of stuff, but if I’m reading a book I expect a higher level of research that goes back to primary sources and doesn’t rely on an open data source that can be changed by anyone at any time. There were also some chapters like the one about Lee de Forest that started out in one place (talking about the invention of the audion tube) and ending up elsewhere (talking about speakers). While I could usually follow the connections I felt like they were two distinct stories each worthy of its own piece.
Finally, as I mentioned earlier I might be biased as I’m generally into history stuff, but the first two chapters were about things I was already very familiar with. Any Canadian kid has seen the Canadian Heritage minute commercial about the Halifax explosion (watch it here: https://youtu.be/rw-FbwmzPKo). And the Yellowstone Park supervolcano has been featured in multiple television specials. There’s lots of obscure American history (for example, the United States Camel Corps, yup they used camels for a while) out there and my expectations were that this book would cover more of that. Overall, it was an interesting read but it wasn’t compelling enough for me to want to shove it into the hands of everyone I know. If you’re looking for some interesting historical tidbits accompanied by that personal connection this is a good book to pick up.
**I received a free copy from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.