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Great mysteries of the past : experts unravel fact and fallacy behind the headlines of history

Author: Reader's Digest Association.
Publisher: Pleasantville, N.Y. : Reader's Digest Association, ©1991.
Edition/Format:   Print book : EnglishView all editions and formats
This journey into the past probes nearly 100 mysteries, offering new approaches to some of the world's most puzzling questions.

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Genre/Form: Trivia and miscellanea
Additional Physical Format: Online version:
Wie geschah es wirklich?. English.
Great mysteries of the past.
Pleasantville, N.Y. : Reader's Digest Association, ©1991
Document Type: Book
All Authors / Contributors: Reader's Digest Association.
ISBN: 0895773775 9780895773777
OCLC Number: 22451831
Notes: Rev. translation of: Wie geschah es wirklich?
Includes index.
Description: 448 pages : illustrations (some color), color maps ; 27 cm
Contents: I. They vanished without a trace --
1. Destination: Great South Sea --
In 1785 the French explorer La Perouse confidently set out to circle the globe --
2. Missing Nazi war treasures --
Millions of dollars in gold and priceless masterpieces of art disappeared in 1945 --
3. Secrets of the Tower --
The sons of England's King Edward IV may have been killed by order of their uncle --
4. A political crash landing --
China's defense minister was poised to seize power from Mao Zedong; instead he died in a plane crash --
5. Australia's lost explorer --
In 1848 and inexperienced German explorer set out to be the first to cross the continent --
6. The end of a romance --
The handsome young soldier was courting danger when he sought to elope with the married princess --
7. Into the green hell --
A British colonel was convinced that lost cities lay hidden in the Brazilian jungle --
8. Missing: Raoul Wallenberg --
Having outwitted the Nazis, the heroic Swedish diplomat was taken off to Russia by the Soviet army --
9. The lost colony --
Returning to his Virginia settlement in 1590, the English governor found only a cryptic message carved on a tree --
10. One-way flight to France --
Glenn Miller was en route to entertain troops when his plane vanished in 1944 --
11. Death in the Arctic ice --
The Englishman hoped to find the Northwest Passage; instead he became the object of a massive search --
12. Escape into another world --
The brilliant physicist took an overnight boat to Sicily; did he end up in Argentina? --
II. Deaths under dubious circumstances --
1. The mad monarch --
Bavaria's Ludwig II lived in a fantasy life in fairy-tale castles; how did he and his doctor drown in an Alpine lake? --
2. Death at Ndola --
The U.N.'s Dag Hammarskjold was trying to end civil war in the Congo when his plane mysteriously crashed --
3. Killed in a barroom brawl --
A playwright who might have been Shakespeare's equal died of a knife wound; was he a man who knew too much? --
4. The fate of a family --
Russia's last czar was an ineffectual ruler but a devoted father; did the Bolsheviks murder his entire family? --
5. Royal triangle --
England's Queen Elizabeth I doted on one courtier; however, there was a problem with their marrying. He had a wife. --
6. Buried in an unmarked grave --
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart became convinced that the Requiem he was composing was for his own funeral --
7. Lone assassin --
or conspiracy? --
Three decades later, many Americans still believe the truth was never told about John F. Kennedy's death in Dallas --
8. Son against father --
History has harshly judged King Philip II of Spain; did he order his son's death? --
9. Intrigue in the Kremlin --
Joseph Stalin was reported to have died from natural causes; many were skeptical --
10. A philosopher murdered? --
Rene Descartes died in Sweden of pneumonia, it was said; 300 years later the possibility of poisoning was raised --
11. Emperor in exile --
Napoleon died thinking he was the victim of foul play; new evidence indicates he may have been right --
12. The unwanted consort --
Mary, Queen of Scots, quickly fell out of love with her young husband; did she have a hand in his death? --
13. Tragedy at Mayerling --
Only the servants knew the archduke had a secret companion; the romantic tryst ended in death for both --
14. Impostor on Russia's throne? --
The czar's son was brutally killed in 1591 --
or was he? A man claiming to be the heir appeared 12 years later --
15. Suicide or murder? --
Depressed, facing charges of misconduct, the former explorer Meriwether Lewis met an untimely end in a Tennessee cabin --
16. A death foretold --
Poland's wartime leader went down in a 1943 plane crash; his death had been reported six weeks earlier. III. Strange and enigmatic characters --
1. Lawrence of Arabia --
The heroic champion of a desert people's independence may have had a highly personal motive for his acts --
2. The unholy monk --
Rasputin cast a spell over Russia's imperial family; did it follow the Romanovs to their deaths? --
3. Idol of an era --
The poet Lord Byron shocked a nation by a scandalous life-style but inspired a generation of freedom lovers --
4. Faith in the stars --
The 17th century's most famous general was ruled by a belief in astrology; it may have been his ultimate undoing --
5. Prophet or charlatan? --
Nostradamus, a 16th-century French physician, predicted events 20 centuries into the future; how accurate has he been? --
6. Father of the atomic bomb --
An architect of U.S. victory in World War II, J. Robert Oppenheimer was later suspected of treason --
7. Seeker of Troy --
A self-made German millionaire realized a lifetime ambition when he found the site of Homer's ancient city --
8. The repentant despot --
To history he is known as Ivan the Terrible; Russia's first czar died asking that prayers be said for his victims --
9. The hero turned traitor --
He was one of Washington's best generals; today his name stands for treason --
10. Drama on the ice --
Robert F. Scott lost the race to the South Pole; his death made him a hero --
11. The would-be peace pilot --
Rudolf Hess had a plan to end World War II; instead he spent decades in prison --
12. Lonely woman of the forest --
Dian Fossey devoted her life to saving East Africa's endangered mountain gorillas; who wanted her dead? --
13. A fortune for science --
An Englishman's bequest to a country he never visited endowed America's prestigious Smithsonian Institution --
IV. Guilty or not guilty --
1. Unsolved riddles of Watergate --
A "third-rate burglary" led to President Nixon's resignation; how much did he know about it? --
2. Eye of the dawn --
Her name symbolizes espionage; but was Mata Hari a spy --
and if so, for whom? --
3. Conspiracy of the cardinals --
The papal court in Renaissance Rome was a hotbed of intrigue; one cardinal made too bold a grab for power --
4. Too costly for a queen --
Marie Antoinette turned down the $8 million necklace but was blamed for the scandal resulting from its sale --
5. Miscarriage of justice --
The conviction for treason and exile of Alfred Dreyfus bitterly divided France --
6. The imperious wife --
Catherine the Great gained Russia's throne after her unloved and estranged husband's convenient death --
7. Traitor or patriot? --
To Irish nationalists, Roger Casement is a hero of their independence movement; Britain executed him for treason --
8. Stranger than fiction --
Edgar Allan Poe's crime story was based on a real-life case; what did the writer know about the murder? --
9. Downfall of a favorite --
A trusted courtier of England's Queen Elizabeth I, Sir Walter Raleigh was sent to his death by her successor --
10. Death for the atom spies --
Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were executed for treason; what were they guilty of? --
11. Accused: The queen --
England's King George IV was determined to get rid of his royal consort; could her adultery be proved? --
12. Equal justice for all --
Were the anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti victims of antiradical hysteria? Or could one of them have been guilty? --
13. Suicide by order of the Fuhrer --
He was Nazi Germany's most famous general; why did Hitler order Erwin Rommel to take his own life? --
14. A hero's agonizing ordeal --
Was Bruno Richard Hauptmann, the man executed for the kidnapping and death of the Lindbergh baby, the real culprit? V. Half truth, half legend --
1. In search of King Arthur --
He reigned in a time of chivalry --
or so the story goes; the reality is far different --
2. The vampire patriot --
Dracula is the epitome of horror; his real-life ancestor is a hero in Romania --
3. On the trail of a bandit --
His name stands for the common man's fight for freedom; scholars have yet to prove that Robin Hood existed --
4. A pact with the devil --
The Faust of literature sold his soul to the devil; was he really an early scientist? --
5. A woman on the papal throne --
The medieval papacy was said to be ruled by women; did one actually become pope? --
6. Vengeance for Siegfried --
A medieval German epic tells of bold events and heroic figures; historians offer clues to real-life models --
6. The desperado as unlikely hero --
Leader of a notorious band of outlaws, Jesse James somehow gained a reputation as an American Robin Hood --
7. Lady of the Camellias --
A famed courtesan, Marie Duplessis gained immortality in a French novel and play --
8. The quest for Eldorado --
Indians told the conquistadors of a chieftain who sheathed himself in gold; his fabled land was never found --
9. Father of Swiss freedom? --
He shot an apple from his son's head and killed the tyrant who ordered it done; did William Tell really exist? --
10. A ride into history --
To protect her people from burdensome taxes, Lady Godiva rode naked through Coventry, is the tale true? --
11. Fiction's famous castaway --
Robinson Crusoe, the hero of the first English novel, had several real-life counterparts in the 18th century --
12. For cross and crown --
Roland supposedly gave his life resisting a Muslim attack on Charlemagne's rear guard; the true story is quite different --
13. Young lovers of Verona --
Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet are the world's most famous lovers; what is the basis for their immortal tale? --
VI. Unanswered questions --
1. Cheated of his birthright? --
A youth with no information about his past was murdered in Germany; was he the heir to a throne? --
2. Surprised at dawn --
Japan's devastating attack on Pearl Harbor brought war; did the United States have advance warning? --
3. The unknown genius --
Shakespeare's plays have endured 400 years and are performed the world over; yet surprisingly little is known about him --
4. The stolen election --
Rutherford B. Hayes was inaugurated as president in March 1877; historians believe his opponent actually won --
5. Murders along the Thames --
The brutal murders in the fall of 1888 terrified London; Jack the Ripper was never identified or caught --
6. Flames over Berlin --
Hitler accused German communists of setting fire to the Reichstag; was there a conspiracy to overthrow the Nazi regime? --
7. The man in the mask --
What did Louis XIV of France have to fear from the unidentified prisoner? --
8. The black hand --
The assassination at Sarajevo sparked World War I; who was responsible? --
9. Blasted from the sky --
In 1983 the Soviet Union shot down a Korean passenger plane; was there any justification for the attack? --
10. A butcher's son as king --
Victor Emmanuel II of Italy seemed too coarse for royalty; had another child taken the real heir's place after a palace fire? --
11. Target hit --
sunk! --
Germany was blamed for sinking the Lusitania in May 1915; was it a British plot? --
12. The missing Dauphin --
The heir to the French throne died in captivity in June 1785 --
or did he survive? VII. Fateful blunders --
1. The invincible armada --
Philip II of Spain unaccountably failed to coordinate his attack on England --
2. The Blitzkrieg that failed --
Hitler had defeated France and isolated Britain; why did he turn east to rouse the sleeping Russian bear? --
3. Custer's last stand --
The dashing cavalry commander ignored orders and divided his outnumbered troops to attack at Little Bighorn --
4. Power play in Rome --
Mussolini knew that his opponents were bent on deposing him in July 1943; why did Il Duce fail to take action? --
5. The unsinkable ship --
Was negligence responsible for the sinking of the Titanic in April 1912? --
6. Seward's icebox --
Russia was convinced that it drove a hard bargain by getting $7.2 million from the United States for Alaska --
7. The emperor's last battle --
Napoleon planned his attack at Waterloo carefully; why didn't his well-tested strategy work one more time? --
8. Hitler's secret diaries --
It was said to be a publishing coup; how could the German magazine's editors so easily be taken in by a forger? --
9. Debacle in the desert --
Diplomatic efforts failed to gain release of the U.S. hostages in Iran; what went wrong with the rescue effort? --
10. A victory thrown away? --
Sweden's King Charles XII had Peter the Great of Russia reeling in defeat but failed to pursue his foe to Moscow.
Other Titles: Wie geschah es wirklich?.
Responsibility: Reader's Digest.


This journey into the past probes nearly 100 mysteries, offering new approaches to some of the world's most puzzling questions.


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