From The Beacon: Books to get at the heart of mysteries

Book recommendations and more from the Beaufort County Public Library

bdeloach@bcgov.netOctober 23, 2011 

Fall is a great time to read about historical mysteries. Some were solved during the late 20th century, thanks to advances in science and technology. One obvious example is the location of the Titanic, found in 1985 at a depth of more than 2 miles beneath the North Atlantic. Once the ship was found, another mystery -- whether the ship split in two when it sank -- was solved.

Here are examples of mysteries that remain unsolved, although modern investigative techniques provide possible explanations.

KING TUTANKHAMEN (1340 B.C. EGYPT)

He is famous because his tomb, with its stunning collection of artifacts, was discovered in 1922. King Tut was 18 when he died and his death has yielded many theories as to a cause, including murder. A compelling case is offered by James Patterson's "The Murder of King Tut: The Plot to Kill the Child King." Other suggestions include "Tutankhamun: Mysteries of the Boy King" by Zahi Hawass and "In the Valley of Kings: Howard Carter and the Mystery of King Tutankhamun's Tomb" by Daniel Meyerson. All offer an interesting description of life in Ancient Egypt.

SHIP MARY CELESTE (1872)

This merchant ship, which sailed from New York and was headed to Europe, was found afloat in the Atlantic Ocean, with no trace of the crew. The weather was fine, and there was plenty of food and clothing available. An excellent account is "Ghost Ship: The Mysterious True Story of the Mary Celeste and Her Missing Crew" by Brian Hicks. General books on maritime disasters are "After the Storm: True Stories of Disaster and Recovery at Sea" by John Rousmaniere and "Without a Trace: A Fresh Investigation of Eight Lost Ships and Their Fates" by John Harris.

EASTER ISLAND

This is one of the most remote and mysterious inhabited islands in the world, located more than 2,000 miles west of Chile (it is a special territory of Chile) and more than 1,200 miles east of Pitcairn Island in the southern Pacific Ocean. It is famous for the huge statues called Moai, which were built by Rapanui (the native Polynesian inhabitants).

There is a lot of mystery to the island: when and from where the first inhabitants arrived; how they survived in such a remote place, with very limited resources; how the Moai were built and moved to their locations. Throughout history, the inhabitants faced many hardships, including colonialism and deforestation. Enjoy the following books and DVDs: "The Ancient Mystery of Easter Island" by John Albert Torres; "Mysteries of Mankind" by George Stuart; "Blind Prophets of Easter Island" (DVD); "Destination Travel Guide: Chile and Easter Island" (DVD).

JACK THE RIPPER (1888)

This case was one of the most sensational murder mysteries in British criminal history. The murders occurred over a period of one year in the East End of London, a notoriously poor, dirty and seedy part of the capital. The savagery of the murders terrorized the community. The police were under tremendous pressure to solve the case but did not. Instead, the murders stopped. Theories abounded as to who the suspect was and the mystery continues to this day. There has been no shortage of suspects, from a doctor to a relative of Queen Victoria.

Patricia Cornwell's book, "Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper -- Case Closed," offers a compelling suspect. Other fascinating reads include "Jack the Ripper: The Uncensored Facts: A Documented History of the Whitechapel Murders of 1888" by Paul Begg and "The Cases that Haunt Us" by John Douglass. For further reading about this era, choose a Sherlock Holmes mystery by Arthur Conan Doyle.

SPANISH INFLUENZA PANDEMIC (1918-19)

The Spanish Influenza Pandemic was one of the greatest catastrophes in world history. According to several sources, this form of influenza took the lives of 20 to 40 million people worldwide. Far more people died of this flu than from World War I. It affected young adults the most. The first reported case in the United States was in Fort Riley, Kansas, on March 4, 1918. Where and how did the epidemic start? Why was it so virulent? Why did it travel so far and so fast?

There are two excellent books on the subject: "The Great Influenza: The Epic story of the Greatest Plague in History" by John Barry and "A Cruel Wind: Pandemic Flu in America 1918-1920" by Dorothy Ann Pettit. They focus on the American experience and response. "Epidemics and Pandemics: Their Impacts on Human History" by J.N. Hays is a history of the world's deadliest epidemics. Another notable book is "Purple Death: The Mysterious Flu of 1918" by David Getz.

One mystery that can easily be solved is where to find all the resources you need for information, education and recreation. It's at your local library. After all, there's nothing mysterious about how wonderful it is to have a great public library. Visit our website at www.beaufortcountylibrary.org and check us out on Facebook at www. facebook.com/beaufort countylibrarysystem.

Bratton DeLoach is a reference librarian at the Blufton Branch of the Beaufort County Library System, at 120 Palmetto Way.

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