The British journalist continues to collect little-known events and factoids from history.
Readers seeking something along the lines of 1066 and All That or The Book of Heroic Failures should look elsewhere, as Milton (When Hitler Took Cocaine and Lenin Lost His Brain: History's Unknown Chapters, 2016, etc.) offers very brief tales of massacres, slavery, World War II failures, and world leaders and the truth about their lives and demises—e.g., George III may have suffered from bipolar disorder, and Stalin was poisoned. The author also shares the story of Witold Pilecki, who broke into (and out of) Auschwitz and whose 1943 report was pointedly ignored and not published until 2000, while Auschwitz escapees Rudolph Vrba and Alfred Wetzler finally—and too late—convinced the Allies with their 1944 report. Many of Milton’s tales contain entertaining trivia facts, such as the source of the 18th-century South Sea Bubble and the framing of Mata Hari, but many are also horror stories, such as the Allied firebombing of Pforzheim and the 946 men who died in a D-Day practice run, some torpedoed, some killed by friendly fire. Personal stories of survivors shed light on history’s horrors, and the author’s research has turned up quite a few incidents that don’t make the history books. Part of the reason is that some of the tales are just not interesting anymore. However, the entries are short and highly readable. Regarding the title episode, Milton chronicles Churchill’s testing of biological weapons (in this case, anthrax bombs) during the war on a remote island whose current inhabitants “are a flock of sheep who munch on the grass, blissfully unaware of the deadly spores that until recently infected their island home.”
Perfect for bathroom reading or a doctor’s waiting room.