Hitler’s love child and other shocking speculations.
In the mode of Ripley’s Believe It or Not, Milton (Russian Roulette: How British Spies Thwarted Lenin’s Plot for Global Revolution, 2014, etc.) has assembled an easily digestible compendium of historical oddities about the famous and infamous, including Hitler and Lenin, Agatha Christie (who went missing, inexplicably, for 11 days in 1926), Charles Lindbergh, and a 19th-century eccentric who proclaimed himself Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico. As he romps through the past, the author introduces a physician who plied Hitler with “an extraordinary cocktail of drugs, many of which are these days classed as dangerous, addictive, and illegal”; a pair of lovers who had a hard time poisoning the woman’s husband; a shipwrecked party who resorted to cannibalism; and a “prolific murderess” of infants. Some vignettes highlight bizarre coincidences: a man who survived the bombing of Hiroshima fled to Nagasaki, only to experience yet another “blinding white flash.” In 1945, Pastor Archie Mitchell and his pregnant wife took five schoolchildren on a picnic in southern Oregon. Suddenly, there was an explosion—a new Japanese weapon, a balloon bomb, killed everyone except Mitchell. In 1960, serving as a missionary in Vietnam, he was captured by the Viet Cong, never to be seen again. Some episodes, such as Hitler’s last days, the Lindbergh baby’s kidnapping, Adolf Eichmann’s capture, and a Japanese soldier’s insistent fighting of World War II until 1974, may be familiar to history buffs. Less known is the story of Irena Sendler, a Polish Catholic social worker, who smuggled Jewish babies out of Poland; Ota Benga, an African pygmy, who, in 1906, was caged with monkeys at the Bronx Zoo; and South African Sarah Baartman, forced to exhibit herself as the “Hottentot Venus.”
A few chapters will elicit a response of “so what?” But there’s enough adventure, gore, and mystery to make this volume mostly entertaining.