We all know that Florence Nightingale was the great angel of mercy who saved thousands of lives by tending to the wounds of Crimean War soldiers, but in reality, her hospital was a much more serious threat to their health than that war's brutal front line. Any school child can tell you that Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, but in fact another prolific inventor, Hiram Maxim, beat him to it. And forget about Alexander Graham Bell inventing the telephone, Italian American tinkerer Antonio Meucci bested him by at least four years in transmitting voices over a wire. Nearly all historians have conceded that the Vikings made it to America's shores 500 years before Columbus. But did you know he was likely to have been preceded by two Chinese explorers - the first in A.D. 458? Most history books say that successive waves of invading barbarians caused the Roman Empire to crumble, but actually that mighty power was brought low by a much humbler intruder: the mosquito. Legend has it that Cleopatra was a ravishing beauty, but all the evidence points to a woman who was plain, short, and dumpy - albeit one with a charming personality. And she couldn't have killed herself with an asp because it was unknown in Egypt at the time. What she probably used was a cobra. Lucrezia Borgia, on the other hand, has probably been unjustly maligned by history writers - because of her family's notorious reputation - for there is no evidence at all that she ever poisoned anyone. Other stories often dismissed as unreliable folklore may very well be authentic. For centuries, the faithful have venerated the bones in a coffin in Padua, Italy, as those of the gospel writer Luke. Now, DNA testing shows that they are likely to be right. And the bedtime tale of the Pied Piper seems to be rooted in the real disappearance of 130 children from the German town of Hameln on June 26, 1284.
Reader's Digest, 2003
28 x 21 x 2 cm