Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

History Decoded

A couple of weeks ago, I ordered some books from I was interested in reading all three, but Tanner was mainly interested in the box.

I was intrigued by History Decoded. I knew the book was based on the History Channel's TV series, which I hadn't previously seen, but—since reading this book—I've watched a couple of episodes on the web site.

Publishers Weekly's review of History Decoded provides an overview:

"Newcomers and longtime fans of Meltzer's popular TV show, Decoded (whereon he and a trio of experts investigate the veracity of various myths and legends), will relish this print companion, comprising summaries of 10 of the most intriguing topics pursued on the show, including the fate of John Wilkes Booth, UFOs in Area 51, Leonardo Da Vinci's apocalyptic predictions, the assassination of J.F.K., and more. Mirroring the series, each chapter begins with Meltzer (The Inner Circle) posing a provocative question (e.g., What if I told you that Fort Knox is empty? ) before leading readers through his process of interviewing experts and analyzing ancient texts and other ephemera to determine the answer—if there is one. As viewers know, the majority of his inquiries don't have a definitive conclusion, but half the fun is getting there. Meltzer peppers each section with fascinating asides (an independent panel determined that all the shots that killed Kennedy came from the rear rather than from multiple angles) and trivia (Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier three months after the Roswell incident, something scientists had previously thought impossible) that is sure to keep readers enthralled and conspiracy theorists encouraged to continue to dig for the truth."

I'm one of those who "relished the book" and was "enthralled" by parts of it. I also loved the way it was designed. Each chapter—which had a simulated envelope or packet with facsimile documents pertaining to the conspiracy—provided insight into historical events, some of which might have been conspiracies. Opening those envelopes to see what was inside was interesting. I won't go into detail about each chapter, but here are a few that I especially liked:

The chapter about John Wilkes Booth contained a wanted poster for him. But the book poses a question: did Booth actually get away and live a long life under an assumed name? This chapter makes a pretty good case for it.

The DB Cooper chapter was pretty interesting, too. Again, there was evidence that "DB Cooper" survived his parachute escape into the wilderness. Was this really a conspiracy, though, or was the guy acting alone?

The chapter about the White House's missing cornerstone didn't seem to be a conspiracy, but it made a pretty good mystery. I'd never heard about the missing cornerstone before.

America has a Stonehenge? I didn't know about the Georgia stones either. I'm not sure that a conspiracy was involved here either, but again, the story was interesting.

And there were several interesting documents in the packet.

I was especially interested in the chapter about the Confederate gold because some of it might have buried in Danville, which is about an hour's drive from me. (Also, once a guy appeared at my door and told me about a treasure buried on my farm that had allegedly been there for about 150 years. . . .) 

I was really getting into this chapter when I noticed an error on one page. Do you see it? (You might have to click to enlarge the picture.)

Look closer. There's a subject-verb agreement error ("Trees dies."), but there's also a factual error.

"The carving that was at eye level in 1865 could be dozens or more feet higher a few year later." Uh, no. That's not how trees grow. The truth is that trees grow up (and out) from the ends of branches. (I wish Workman Publishing Company (or maybe the History Channel) had employed a fact-checker to "dig for the truth.")

Here's a piece of evidence: a carving that my husband did in the late 70s not long after we'd bought the Brown farm. Our initials are still at the height he carved them. I remember he had to reach up a bit.

The carving hasn't moved upward in over three decades. It's at the height it's always been—still just slightly higher than my husband's shoulders.

More evidence: a lot of pastures in my area are fenced by barbed wire nailed to cedar trees. Had those trees grown from the bottom, some fences might be 50 feet in the air now. But they're not. A bit of Googling proved what I already knew.  

Despite this glaring error, History Decoded is a pretty good book, and I enjoyed reading it. It would make a good gift for history buffs of all ages. It might even appeal to a young person who isn't especially interested history but who loves a mystery.

History Decoded isn't your typical textbook history lesson. I recommend it as a fun and interesting read. 



Blogger CountryDew said...

Keith Ferrell is a Virginia author, too. Excellent review.

3:09 PM  
Blogger Becky Mushko said...

His farm is just a few miles from me.

3:13 PM  
Blogger Lilly Faye said...

Tanner reminds me of my friend, Busty!

Thanks for providing an inside look at this fascinating book. I love Brad Meltzer's TV show. I've seen every episode twice. I wish they would make more of them!

4:48 PM  
Blogger Sunnybrook Farm said...

I was surprised to learn that Christine McKinley of Decoded is a singer/song writer as well as a science person. Check her music out on her site:

6:29 PM  

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