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Monday, December 10, 2012

“The Great Pretenders: The True Stories Behind Famous Historical Mysteries”, by Jan Bondeson

336 pages, W. W. Norton & Company, ISBN-13: 978-0393326444

The Great Pretenders: The True Stories Behind Famous Historical Mysteries is great fun, no pretending. Jan Bondeson examines the great (and the lesser great) historical mysteries of the nineteenth century, such as Kaspar Hauser, the Lost Dauphin, and monk-czar of Russia. He presents all the known evidence in a clear fashion and lays out the possible solutions relying on both modern scientific evidence, if available and applicable, and documentary evidence. The author may disappoint conspiracy buffs (they always have the internet) but this book will interest history buffs. These stories are endlessly fascinating and they add up to a marvelous evening or so of reading. If you are an aficionado of royal histories from that period you've probably already read quite a bit about the subjects presented here, but nevertheless it’s nice to have the stories encapsulated in a quick, well written series of chapters like this one. It’s also interesting to see how much DNA has been used in recent years to help verify or debunk some of these stories. Some of the selections seem a bit off, for example the story of the Tichborne Claimant is interesting history but it could hardly be considered a case of a missing heir, being actually a pretty obvious case of attempted fraud, but that is no reason not to enjoy this book.

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